JamBerry Ltd

Thursday 2 February 2012

How Managers Contribute to Workplace Conflict

A disruptive member of your team can cause real problems with other team members. A case recently comes to mind where a new office manager was appointed. Jo was clearly very efficient at her job and had the ability to get on with tasks given to her. But her manner was abrupt and dismissive. She assumed that she had the right to interrupt  and took delight in showing up other people's faults.

Unfortunately her manager was too busy to really notice, and so relieved that she had someone to pass some of her workload to, that she chose to ignore the warning signs. She tried to paper over any issues with comments such as "Let's see how thing go." or " Now is not the time to address this."
Over a period of a three of months, 1 person left and another tendered their resignation. Their resignations caused a hole in the expertise in team. Luckily they realised at this stage what the problem was and finally listened to their teams concerns. Jo, who was still on probation, was asked to leave.   However, although one resignation was saved,  Jo's manager had to spend a lot of time recruiting new people to fill the hole that was left from the person that did leave.
This situation was resolved quite quickly, but sometimes problems can go on for months or on occasions years. Ignoring the disruptive behaviour of one individual can have a much wider ripple effect on the rest of the team. 
Managers contribute to conflict by communicating ambiguously, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Most of us want to avoid conflict, but we can sometimes “talk out of both sides of our mouths” and give mixed messages. Such ambiguous communication fosters an organizational climate that discourages commitment (at best) and promotes conflicts (at worst).
I'm not saying managers do this on purpose (although some do). But highly educated people are skilled in the language of diplomacy and often try to address the needs and desires of a wide audience. In trying to please everyone, they craft messages that border on double-speak.
This is more of an explanation but not a rationalization and it certainly isn't a good excuse.  
Leaders need to be more direct, frank and clear. I'd like to see more executives stand up and remove the barriers to candour. Why don't more of them tell it like it really is?
Many managers are sitting too close to the blackboard to see their own communication errors. An unbiased professional coach or consultant can spot weaknesses and help correct approaches that contribute to conflict.
What do you think about these possible sources that create more conflict instead of helping people do their work in the best possible environment? I'd love to hear your comments.