Workplace conflict: A growing challenge for managers
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Workplace conflict: A growing challenge for managers

People are spending twice as much time dealing with workplace conflict as they did just a few years ago, according to an employee survey that underscores the need for managers to be well-trained in conflict resolution.

The personality testing company Myers-Briggs surveyed almost 300 people in the United States, Britain and several other countries about the role of conflict in their employment experience. These respondents represented all levels of organizational hierarchy, from line employees through managers up to top executives.

One of the key findings — perhaps THE key finding — of the survey was that employees reported spending an average of 4.3 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict. That’s a significant chunk of someone’s work week. Moreover, it’s more than double the average reported in Myers-Briggs’s comparable survey taken in 2008, which was 2.1 hours.

The company pointed out that U.S. employment costs stand at $39/hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and so the cost of just one employee dealing with conflict over the course of a year would run to upwards of $8,000. Multiply that by the number of employees in your organization and you’re looking at a truly sobering reality.

Why workplace conflict in on the rise

The survey didn’t give a definitive answer to the question of why conflict had increased so much, but mentioned several possible contributors. These included the unsettling effects of the COVID pandemic, heavy workloads, poor communication and lack of role clarity.

To be sure, Myers-Briggs pointed out that conflict isn’t inevitably a bad thing. Respondents to the survey said that conflict over ideas can actually solidify workplace relationships and build collaboration. But when conflict goes sour — as it frequently does — it makes people anxious, depressed, stressed and fearful, these being the most common adjectives used by survey respondents.

The manager’s role in conflict resolution

As you’d expect, managers are in a position to deal with at least some of the main factors of conflict. According to the survey, 65% of respondents believed their managers could take significant actions to reduce workplace conflict. Here’s what they wanted managers to do:

  • Listen more
  • Ask more frequently for information and opinions
  • Communicate more regularly and more clearly
  • When conflict arises, address it more promptly and more directly
  • Stop trying to please specific individuals or more senior managers

That’s quite a list of behaviors and skills for managers to acquire or improve upon, and most managers are going to need help. That’s where training comes in.

The shape of conflict prevention and resolution training for managers will vary depending on the nature of your organization, of course. But it’s fair to say that almost any organization can benefit — and reduce the cost of conflict — by helping their leaders develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s changing workplace.

This blog entry is based on “Conflict at Work: A Research Report From the Myers-Briggs Co.,” August 2022.


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