The Hidden Costs of Unmanaged Conflict

Wendy LoewenConflict Resolution0 Comments

gossiping at work

We often think of conflict as negative – something that is bad that needs to be avoided. At ACHIEVE, we believe that conflict has the potential to be positive, that something good can result from it, and that it is crucial to have the right tools to engage well with each other in the midst of conflict. We, however, are not naïve regarding the detrimental effects of unmanaged conflict, recognizing that conflict left unresolved is truly harmful. In fact, the ramifications are so weighty that we devote a large portion of our services to supporting organizations in navigating conflict.

The Globe and Mail, in July 2015, states that unmanaged conflict contributes to employee absenteeism which costs the Canadian economy $16.1 billion. Daniel Dana in Managing Differences states that exit interviews reveal that chronic conflict is responsible for up to 90% of involuntary departures. That is a lot of negative consequences for letting conflict run its course!

In addition to the ramifications listed above, there are 3 major costs of unmanaged conflict that should cause us to pause, and propel us to plan a course of action in response to conflict.

1. Wasted Time.

When we are giving our time and attention to conflict, it means we are not giving it to the work at hand. Conflict not only wastes the time of those directly involved, but those who are indirectly involved as well. Managers spend time dealing with conflict between employees, and employees spend time talking with each other about conflict occurring in the workplace, even when they are not a part of the issue.

2. Diminished Work Quality.

Under the pressure of unresolved conflict, we know innovation, creativity, and the motivation to produce high quality work wane. Sound decisions are made when people are free to speak their mind, when they look to others for feedback, and when people are working collaboratively – conflict robs our workplaces of these opportunities. We sometimes find that employees act out in retaliation by taking out their frustration damaging concrete items such as tools or business supplies rather than directly addressing conflict, and they may even sabotage work projects to get back at others.

3. Escalation.

Conflict, when left to its own devices, gains momentum and escalates. Whatever the source or root of the conflict, without intervention it gains intensity. Distancing ourselves from the situation may allow us to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, but it does little to foster a sense of harmony in the workplace. Instead it increases tension and relational strain. Where people choose to coerce others into submission or force their way, we again experience relational damage. People often become invested in the conflict and the stakes are raised. Once trust is broken, dislike and hatred often seep in, making it more and more difficult to resolve the issue that initiated the conflict cycle.

Training in conflict resolution skills is shown to be one of the most effective ways to manage and mitigate the costs of conflict. It is time, money, and effort that is invested well and will yield both positive outcomes for our businesses and the people who devote their energy to making them successful.

This blog is a sample from an upcoming book by ACHIEVE Publishing. The book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We hope you participate in the short survey – we would love to hear your input.

Wendy Loewen, Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

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