Today's workplaces are dynamic, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that tension can develop quickly and ruinously. The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook is the ideal resource for anyone ready to confront conflict at work rather than run from it. Managed correctly, conflict can be a positive source for innovation and creativity. Using examples drawn from a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences, along with checklists and other practical tools, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook will help employees, managers at all levels, and business owners answer the following important questions:
- What's changing in the workplace and the workforce today?
- Are the right issues being addressed?
- How can we create more options to solve conflicts?
- What's my conflict style, and why is it important?
- How should I set and manage expectations?
- What happens when disruptive behavior gets out of control?
About the Author
Barbara Mitchell is an author, speaker, and human resources consultant. She is the coauthor of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, and The Essential HR Handbook. Most of her HR career was spent with Marriott International. Barbara is managing partner of The Mitchell Group and an innovative career transition coach.
Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR, president of The GEMS Group, Ltd., consults, speaks, and writes on human resource and management issues. A recognized expert in employee relations and human resources, she has coauthored four books, three with Barbara. Cornelia spent most of her HR career with a Fortune 500 IT services company with a global presence.
Read an Excerpt
What's New at Work?
If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
— Maya Angelou
Let's start with the fact that just about everything is new at work these days. As the world economy shifts from day to day, jobs are lost and jobs are created with different skill set requirements. Each of us is being challenged to learn new technologies in order to build our skill sets and to help stay relevant in an increasingly technology-driven world.
As Sharon Armstrong says in The Essential Performance Review Handbook, "We're experiencing what Future Shock author Alvin Toffler might call 'an exclamation point in history,' an era in which old barriers fall and there is vast reorganization of the production and distribution of knowledge and the symbols used to communicate it." We now work in an increasingly global economy; so, in many organizations, competition is fierce to innovate and get new products to market as quickly as possible. And many organizations have been purchased or merged with international organizations, which has created a need for employees to change and adapt to new ways of doing business.
Managers were just getting used to dealing with four generations in the workplace when along comes the next one. And with the slower economy, many in the older generations have delayed retirements so that now many organizations are faced with having potentially five different generations working together. That can present major challenges and create stress that frequently results in conflict in the workplace. Although everyone in a particular generation may not see things like others in that generation, we know that there are generational differences in today's complex workplaces. The Millennial generation is coming into its own and will be the largest group of employees in the workplace in the next few years. This generation lives, eats, and breathes technology. Generation X and Millennials are taking leadership positions in organizations, which has the potential to create conflict when they are asked to manage people who are considerably older than they are. These changes can and will cause conflict!
Resisting change is futile. Change is everywhere and with it comes increasing chances for workplace conflict. Think about an organization that is in the process of being acquired by a competitor. Some employees adapt easily to the new organization whereas others want to hang on to the old ways of doing things. I once had a manager who said he felt like "everyone else was on the new boat moving down the river" while he "was stuck on the dock." He was unwilling to take the first steps to adapt to the new organization. His inability to move forward created huge conflicts in the organization because he was a key player. He didn't see that his resistance to change was creating major conflicts between him and those on his team who had already adapted to the new way of doing things required by the acquiring organization. He decided to leave the organization rather than adapt to the necessary changes. This is a rather drastic step to take, but it did resolve the conflicts created by his inability to modify his behavior.
The great thing about change in the workplace is that each of us has a choice as to whether to embrace it, resist it, or wait and see! Change can be managed to lessen the likelihood of conflicts, but let's not kid ourselves: Change does cause conflict, so all we can do is try to minimize it by managing the change effectively. We know that "organizations continually evolve, whether by expanding, contracting, exploring, or eliminating. Managers often joke that change is the one true constant in any organization, and it's undeniably true. Any organization that desires to improve or just keep up with its competitors has to change." Change is uncomfortable for many people. "Ruts, even the most boring and dull, are comfortable for us. We know the old tried-and-true ways are predictable, and what is new and different may be frighteneing." It's also a given that change can bring a whole new energy level to the organization. As soon as employees get on board with the change, things can happen that move the group, team, or department forward. The issue is how to get through the change and the conflicts that arise because of the change process and get on the other side! Managers must be on the lookout for conflicts that result from the desired changes to ensure the conflicts positively drive the changes the organization is seeking.
"Consider the telephone ... a rotary phone — a device created in 1918 that didn't change much for a half century. By contrast, there have been five versions of the iPhone in seven years."
There are many changes that have the potential for creating conflict in the workplace. For example, consider:
* New leadership — a new CEO or executive director is named to an organization. No matter how hard he/she tries to instill confidence and to let the existing staff get to know him/her, this change can bring conflict out in the open.
Jim just retired from The Thomas Company after serving as CEO for more than 15 years. The organization didn't have a succession plan, so the board of directors used a well-known search firm to locate candidates to replace Jim. They selected Chad, who'd been COO of a competing company. Chad joined The Thomas Company three months ago and it hasn't gone well. Jim's management style was to hire good people and let them do their jobs, whereas Chad is much more of a "command and control" kind of leader.
Chad's direct reports are struggling to work together and some conflicts that would never have surfaced under Jim are now coming to the surface. The CFO and the VP of marketing are doing everything under the sun to undermine each other and it is obvious that Chad doesn't have a clue it is happening, so their conflict boils over into other parts of the organization.
Change in reporting relationships — what happens when an employee who has reported to one manager for 10 years is suddenly moved to another team?
Hal has been on the marketing team headed by his long time mentor and now personal friend, Ken. Through the years, they've developed a sort of shorthand when communicating with each other and the others on the team. Everyone knows they play golf every weekend when the weather cooperates and that their wives are best friends. A decision is made at the highest levels of the organization that Hal could make major contributions to the sales team and he is asked to now report to Wes. Hal and Wes know each other but have never liked each other. There is something about the other one's style that gets in the way of them working well together. Hal is also concerned that, after so many years of working closely with Ken, he doesn't really know as much as he should about the business and, now, Wes will find out and use that against him.
When Hal joins the sales team, he is unsure of himself and doesn't feel welcomed. The rest of the team have been operating as a well- functioning team for years and now this new person comes to their staff meetings. They've all known Hal through the years, but aren't sure about him. They are concerned that his relationship with Ken, his former boss, is too close and wonder whether he will tell Ken about all the issues they are facing. There has always been rivalry between the sales and the marketing teams and now they have to learn to trust Hal and find ways to work with him.
* New team member — a new hire is introduced to a group of people who've worked together for a long time; they don't know this person and he/she doesn't know them.
Celeste is hired away from a competing firm to join an existing group of coworkers who've been on the same team for many years. The team members read her bio when HR sends out the introductory e-mail, and though she has an impressive background and has been highly successful with the other company, they don't know her and don't trust her. Celeste comes in to a difficult situation — it is hard enough to start with a new firm, but she feels the pressure to prove herself as quickly as possible. To make matters even worse, she is replacing Tom, who had been on this team for more than five years and resigned to relocate when his wife took a job out of state. The team loved Tom and now Celeste is in his place.
* New technology/system — new software is introduced by your great IT team.
Cedric, head of IT, and his team hold classes to train everyone in the new system. They put together a Frequently Asked Questions document to help people adapt to the new system. They set up a help desk just for this implementation. Every effort is made by Cedric and his team to bring people up to speed on what they need to know, but many employees decide not to attend the training. The office is filled with gossip about how this is another major mistake; and, if they just hold on, maybe the company will go back to the old system. Cedric goes to the CEO to complain that he isn't getting the support he needs to make it happen, but the CEO really isn't interested in that level of detail and dismisses Cedric's concerns. The company has spent a lot of money on the new technology, but people are unhappy about it and unsure what it means for their jobs.
* Office redesign/relocation.
The Hyde Company has just moved into a beautiful new building. Before they moved, a team spent many hours working with the outside design team to come up with new ways of doing business. The old office space was dark and filled with long corridors. Everyone wanted a window office so that's what they had; even the administrative staff work stations had a window. This resulted in a very siloed office environment. There were no places for employees to get together except for the cramped coffee stations scattered around the office.
The new office design is totally different. It is open with very few walls. Even the offices along the windows have glass walls that can be moved or stored. The feeling is entirely different and collaborative.
Many employees openly hate the new office. They complain about the lack of privacy even though there are plenty of small rooms designed for privacy that anyone can use. Other people love it and think that it has really broken down the barriers between departments and they enjoy being able to meet with their coworkers in the huddle spaces set up around the building for collaboration.
* New policy or procedure.
A small nonprofit organization has received a lot of requests from staff members to telecommute a day or two a week. Martin, the executive director asked Lane, the chief of staff who had responsibility for HR issues, to research whether or not this was a good idea and if it was a good idea, how they could make it work for their organization. Lane gathered a few leaders in the organization to work with her on this. They surveyed other nonprofits and small businesses in their area and came up with a recommendation for how it would work. They announced it at a staff meeting and employees started working from home. There was a lot of confusion as to who was eligible and many upset employees when they asked their manager if they could telecommute and were told no without a reason. "If Sally can telecommute, why can't I?" became a frequently heard comment. Telecommuters were not given guidelines as to how they needed to be available at certain times during the day and what the expectation was as to how quickly they would respond to e-mails or voice mails. Rumors started when someone would call a telecommuter and get their voice mail — if that person wasn't available, it was obvious they weren't working. Of course, that was untrue as there are several legitimate reasons why a call goes to voice mail, including that the person may have been on the line with another coworker solving a work-related issue.
* Fear of loss of job security.
Whyte and Associates has been a family-owned business since the current CEO's grandfather started the business in the 1960s. They have grown to more than 500 employees in three states, but their market share is diminishing. The leadership is evaluating all kinds of options to cut costs and it is rumored that there will be layoffs. Productivity decreases as people fear for their jobs. There are several quiet meetings in the halls about whether or not to put a resume together and bail or wait to see what kind of severance packages are offered. Who is going to decide what jobs are safe and what jobs are eliminated? Trust in the leadership diminishes by the day.
* New responsibilities — even when the employee is excited about a promotion or additional responsibilities, it can be a time of high stress, which can create conflict.
Maya works for a large financial services firm. She's been there for five great years and her career progression is right where she wants it to be. She is expecting to be promoted to director in the next six months. She's called to her boss's office on a Monday morning and after they chat about their weekends, the boss tells her that her promotion will be sooner rather than later. Maya is excited, but apprehensive because she knows two of her peers were also hoping for this promotion. Her boss tells her that he has great confidence in her and will support her as she takes on the new responsibilities, but she is nervous about facing her coworkers, who may find ways to undermine her work.
* Colleague/friend resignation — employees, especially Millennials, want to have a good friend at work, so consider what can happen when the best friend resigns or, even worse, is terminated.
Sierra and Kaitlyn started work at the bank on the same day and became instant friends. They eat lunch together almost every day and share everything about their personal lives. They work in different departments; however, when the loan department is facing a downsizing and Kaitlyn's job is eliminated, Sierra is devastated. She begins to question her job at the bank and to resent the people in Kaitlyn's old department that survived the layoff.
* Loss of job freedom.
Ricardo and Dakari have been working at a large trade association where they had a lot of discretion with how they did their jobs and when they worked. The managers to whom they reported trusted them to complete their work on time and allowed them to have a flexible schedule to suit their personal and family needs. Dakari now reports to a new director who has eliminated any flex time, and he now has to be at this desk at 8 a.m. and can't leave before 5:30 p.m. Ricardo's department still allows flex time. Dakari is unhappy and takes it out on his former coworker rather than going to his manager to complain.
* Loss of pride in the organization.
Tenisha has worked for the Gilbert Company for more than 10 years and one of the reasons she joined them was because of the great work they do in the community. The company has been a strong supporter of local charities and she's been able to have some influence, which allowed her to put forward some of her favorite causes. A recent change in leadership has resulted in the company cancelling its commitment to several important charities in their small town. Tenisha still personally volunteers at those organizations and is embarrassed that her company has pulled its support. She is no longer proud to work for the Gilbert Company and has had several difficult conversations with her boss about how she feels. Her boss tells her not to make waves at this time, but to "ride it out" and see if things change. She now feels as if her boss doesn't understand her point of view and they've had a difficult couple of weeks.
Any of these changes we just described can cause conflict within organizations. As organizations change (and we know they will!), what steps can be taken to mitigate the number and severity of conflicts? Patrick Lencioni writes:
When team members trust each another, when they know that everyone on the team is capable of admitting when they don't have the right answer, and when they're willing to acknowledge when someone else's idea is better than theirs, the fear of conflict and the discomfort it entails is greatly diminished. When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. It is not only okay, but desirable. Conflict without trust, however, is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth.
When change occurs in any organization, managers must actively listen to what is being said about the change and do their best to understand where the root causes of the resistance to change are coming from. This is a time to over-communicate. Organizations need to use every means of communication possible and not overlook the rumor mill. Leaders can use the rumor mill to spread accurate information to counterbalance the negative information that will be spreading like wildfire in times of change. During times of change, there should be frequent meetings, e-mail blasts, and tweets to keep employees aware of what is happening and why. Savvy managers know how to effectively use every available communication method.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook"
Copyright © 2015 Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What's New at Work?,
Chapter 2 Why Can't Everyone Be Like Me?,
Chapter 3 What's Happened to Team Spirit?,
Chapter 4 What's the Problem?,
Chapter 5 Listen Up!,
Chapter 6 You Want Me to Do What?,
Chapter 7 Don't Draw a Line in the Sand!,
Chapter 8 What's Your Type?,
Chapter 9 Whose Fight Is It Anyway?,
Chapter 10 Are You Playing Nice in the Sandbox?,
Chapter 11 What's an Organization to Do?,
Appendix: Additional Resources,
About the Authors,