What is Workplace Conflict

The workplace is your second home. In fact, some of you probably spend more time at work than you do at home. You are indeed fortunate if you have the opportunity to work in a job which you find challenging and interesting. But, however satisfying your job is, there always seem to be some type of conflict.

Workplace conflict happens regularly between team members, departments, managers, suppliers, vendors and sometimes customers. If you are a manager, then the problem of workplace conflict becomes a major issue as you are confronted with it on a regular basis. As one manager complained, it seemed like they were spending more time mediating between people who behaved like spoiled children rather than creative and productive individuals.

What Is Workplace Conflict?

Conflict in the workplace can be defined as a strong difference of opinion that occurs in the workplace. It may start out as a simple complaint or just a difference of opinion. In many cases, such issues are either solved gradually or they die a natural death. However, statistics show that these differences are consuming a large portion of a manager’s time and happening more frequently. These situations may escalate to such a degree that the two concerned parties can no longer work together. They begin to object to the ideas and functions of one another purely on the basis of personal bias.The spirit of open minded camaraderie that is so essential for a productive environment is completely lost. The concerned employees suffer; the manager has to spend time mediating between the two sides instead of focusing on more productive management responsibilities. The employees involved in the conflict may feel uncomfortable working together and the performance of the entire team suffers as a result.

The definition of conflict in the workplace has varied and each serves to bring out the different viewpoints regarding this ever present issue. In 1998, Professors Gilbert and Kreikebaum have the opinion that even if one party senses or anticipates a disagreement justifiably, conflict may said to exist. On the other hand, Donahue and Kolt (1992) says that conflict is “……..A situation in which independent people express (manifest or latent) differences in satisfying their individual needs and interests and they experience interference from each other in accomplishing these goals”.

Can this universal definition of conflict be applied to workplace conflict as well?

The dynamics the workplace is somewhat unique which makes workplace conflict different. Before starting to tackle the issue of conflict in the workplace, you have to keep the following characteristics in mind:

  • While some people work because they love the job and truly care, many other need stronger motivation to put in their full effort in the job.
  • You do not get to choose your colleagues. Yet, you have to spend a lot of time with them, often in a high pressure situation. This is definitely a recipe for conflict.
  • The work environment is a hierarchical structure and employees are interdependent with one another. So, perceived inefficiency on the part of one employee is going to affect the job quality of others.
  • There are a number of dynamics operating in the workplace. Interdependence exists between colleagues, between the employee and the manager, the employee and the customer as well as the employee and outside suppliers. Whenever this delicate balance is upset, workplace conflict is the inevitable result.
  • Increases in the volume of interactions accompanied by a lack of open and definite communication are another vital ingredient in workplace conflict.
  • People with different personalities, cultures and styles must often work together in an interdependent way. Personality clashes as well as a clash of ideas consequently set the ground for workplace conflict.

The result of all the above factors can cause a disruption of work environments and the creation of the workplace conflict.

According to one study by Thomas and Schmidt in 1976, a typical manager spends almost 30% of their time resolving workplace conflict issues. This was followed by another similar study by Watson and Hoffman in 1996 which showed that this time workplace conflict has actually escalated to 42% of a mangers time in recent years.

The fact is that workplace conflict can arise from a series of reasons including differences in work-styles, background and gender, personalities, and skill level. When these types of conflicts go unresolved, they may turn into a much bigger problem down the road.

The ability to address workplace conflict in the early stages is an important component to resolving the issue. Unanswered or unmanaged conflict can escalate can disrupted an organization’s growth as workers start spending more time entrenched in conflict than they do working on organizational goals.

Handling Workplace Conflict Myths and Reality

Workplace conflict is much more common than you probably think. Yet, it is nothing to be ashamed of or swept under a rug. To truly understand workplace conflict, you need to understand some basic facts about the myths and reality of workplace conflict. The myths about workplace conflict are:

  1. It is not nice to have conflict. This idea is ingrained in our psyche. From childhood, you are taught that it is not nice to have conflict and you should always put a smiling face on it. Therefore, it is simply wrong to have conflict.

  1. Conflicts will resolve themselves over time, so there is no need for me to get involved. This is one of the more common approaches taken by managers. It’s a hands-off approach to dealing with conflict.

  1. A true team would never have any conflict. When true team spirit prevails, there would be no conflict or even a chance for it. All is sweetness and light in a good team.

……. And now for the reality:

  1. It is not nice to have conflict – If it is not nice to have conflict, is it better to grind your teeth and suffer in silence? You get to be the nice guy, but you are probably heading towards a major meltdown.

  1. Conflicts will resolve themselves over time, so there is no need for me to get involved – This is probably one of the most common myths about conflict and one that produces disastrous results. If a manager fails to address workplace conflict head-on will find themselves dealing with a much bigger problem in the future. Most conflicts that involve minor disagreements or matters that are trivial tend to resolve and work themselves out over time. Larger disagreements or conflicts tend not go away without some type of intervention.

  1. A true team would never have any conflict – A team without conflict is one where the team members have nothing of value to contribute and no passion for their job. It is a group working according to the direction of the leader and with no scope for any creative ideas to emerge.

You should realize that conflict is inevitable and working out a solution is the major task of the manager. One of the main keys to handling workplace conflict is to stay focused on the problems and not the personalities of the individuals involved in the conflict. A good way to avoid dealing with larger conflicts later is to confront them in the early stages

Maintaining Focus in Public Speaking

A public speaking situation can be intimidating for even the most seasoned of public speaking professionals. That is because when speaking to a live audience, you really never know what is going to happen. Never mind the freak occurrences of problems with the audience and the room, you as a human being could be subject to momentary memory halts that often come as the result of nervousness or just looking up and seeing all those eyes looking at you.

So much of the discipline of giving a public presentation is to establish an internal structure to your talk that helps you stay on task and maintain the focus of your subject for the entire time you are speaking. That structure can also be of huge value in helping you gauge your time and make adjustments so you get the most crucial parts of your talk presented within the allocated time frame even if that means leaving out less important parts of your presentation.

There is a simple directive many public speakers live by that gives you a fine guideline for that structure. It goes like this…

  • Tell them what you are going to do.
  • Do what you said you were going to do
  • Tell them you did it.

This simple outline may be overly simplistic but it is the heart of what makes a good presentation work. And the simplicity also helps you stay focused under the pressure of a public speaking situation. So any tool that can do that is a good one.

You tell the audience what to expect during your opening comments. Those comments also contact giving your personal information, a greeting to the audience and perhaps some humor to set the tone of the talk. After you have gotten the speech underway, it is common to establish what is the topic of your talk. But to do that, the most effective device is to make a statement of the problem. By phrasing the subject matter as a compelling and very real problem to your audience, that creates interest as the audience says mentally, “Yes I have that problem. Tell me how you will help me fix it.”

This is where you tell them what you are going to do. The body of your speech is usually a three to five point discussion of the solution to the problem. Don’t give them the entire heart of your speech but let them know the ground you are about to cover. Not only does this give the audience a road map of what to expect, it lets them know that you know what you are doing and you know when you will get done. This gets rid of a secret fear of an out of control speaker that a lot of people who sit in on presentations dread.

Once you establish this roadmap for the rest of your speech, this gives the audience a good feel for where you will be going. By giving them this information early on, that actually reduces the impulse to interrupt you because they know you have a path to go on and they don’t want to take you off that path. Now it is just a matter of stepping through each of the outlined areas to do for this audience what you said you would do which is to offer a solution to the problem statement. Naturally your detailed discussion will have more content than your brief preview. But if you continue to broadcast to the audience where you are on the outline and that you are on track to reach the goal, that keeps them interested and assured that this is an organized program they are a part of.

It is always good to let the audience know then when you are entering your closing statements. Many speakers use a simple clue like “Let me point out, and I am closing with this…” to give the audience the signal that the presentation is almost done. This is common courtesy and a professional way to conduct a presentation. And if you treat the audience with respect like this by telling them what you are going to do, do it and then tell them you did it, you will be a speaker that will get good reviews and invited back for more presentations frequently.

Delivering A Speech Maintain Eye Contact

Body language is very important when delivering a speech.

Have you ever seen our great leaders fidget or make unnecessary movements while addressing the nation?

Since you are the center of attention while making the presentation, you should mind every move that you make so as not to bore or distract the people listening to your speech.

So you already have a speech prepared, you know the topic well and you are now standing in front of the audience.

They are in for a treat because you have prepared a great presentation, yet you also know that they have a very short attention span.

How would you keep them interested with what you are saying?

The answer is to maintain eye contact.

This is one public speaking technique that great speakers use when addressing a large group of people. Here are some tips on how you can use this “trick” to keep your audience interested while delivering a speech:

Once you have already started speaking and have delivered your introduction, take a look at your audience.

Do not be nervous if you see one or two people frowning as you are not sure of exactly what they are thinking.

Instead of looking out for unfriendly or blank faces, search for the people who are smiling and nodding their heads. Try to focus on this person for a couple of minutes and look him or her in the eye.

This way, you would have an immediate “friend” in the audience to whom you can look at and gain confidence from.

This will not just increase your confidence but also relax you in the course of your speech.

Gaze steadily at your audience, moving from one part of the room to another. This way, you would immediately grasp their attention.

Never read your speech. Just make an outline of the important points that you can expand on.

If you have visuals, do not read the bullet points word for word as this might imply that your audience cannot read that themselves.

With this, you are instantly creating a “bond” with your audience as a speaker since you do not have to keep on looking at your notes through the course of your speech.

The key to delivering a great speech is to just breathe, relax and make eye to eye contact with your audience.

Thus, you are not just making a physical connection with them but you are also ensured that you come out as a sincere speaker who wants to inform and interact with the audience through your speech.