This week’s high profile spate between Michael Gove, Education Secretary and Theresa May, Home Secretary, regarding the issue of how to tackle religious extremism in schools has been a learning in how to manage conflict. Their boss, David Cameron, has acted in text-book ways to effectively manage the damaging conflict between his direct reports which is threatening to destabilise his party:
- He rapidly and decisively dealt with the conflict head-on, asserting his role as their senior by intervening to order Secretary Jeremy Heywood to investigate the row.
- The demand for an investigation communicated Cameron’s commitment to use official procedures to set an example of how he takes conflict seriously.
- He has demonstrated a participative approach by talking to each party individually.
- He has brought both parties together to communicate.
- He has acted as a role model, maintaining his professionalism and being clear about his expectations of his team’s conduct.
- He has shown integrity by treating employees with the same importance.
- He dealt with the conflict head-on.
- He has removed disruptive team members where practical –Theresa May’s special adviser Fiona Cunningham has resigned following the investigation. This action also acknowledged the stress being caused to others by a team member.
This public acting out of a workplace conflict gives pause for thought …
What causes workplace conflict? How can it be managed and prevented? What are the benefits to an organisation of effectively managing conflict?
In a CIPD report, it was found that almost half (44%) of managers have to manage disputes at work frequently or continually, finding that on average HR professionals spend 3.4 hours every week managing conflict at work – rising to 3.8 hours for public sector respondents.
The most commonly cited cause of conflict is warring egos and personality clashes, mentioned by 44% of respondents as being the number one source of interpersonal strain. This is followed by poor leadership from the top (30%), inadequate line management (21%) and weak performance management (17%). Heavy workload and bullying and/or harassment are also identified as significant causes of disputes in the workplace.
How can managers manage and prevent conflict?
Here is a useful checklist for managers:
- More informal one-to-ones with the people you manage
- Improved consultation in day-to-day management of activities
- Provide more clarity about what you expect of your direct reports and their staff
- Be sure to provide your staff with clarity over their areas of responsibility
- Be a model of the right behaviours
- Provide counseling for employees under stress
- Act as mediators when conflict develops
- Raise the subject of possible conflict as part of business (rather than shying away from it or punishing it)
- Don’t let your own egos get in the way of relationships with your colleagues
- Manage toxic individuals who create conflict at work more directly and firmly
- Provide improved work–life balance
What are the benefits of investing in managing conflict at work?
- Reduction in number of formal disciplinary and grievance cases
- Improved team morale
- Improved team performance/productivity
- Reduced absence levels
- Reduction in number of employment tribunal claims received
- Helped reduce employee turnover
Worryingly, the CIPD report indicates that 27 per cent of managers say that they receive no training of any description in conflict management.
Our leadership and management programmes cover conflict management in depth, and in recognition of the importance of this area, we also provide standalone programmes to improve conflict management skills at all levels of an organisation.
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