Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Ted has never been the type to bring his personal problems to work but sometimes he can’t help it. A year ago, his wife was in a car accident and became unable to care for their two young children. Ted is not a complainer. He simply accepted his new responsibilities and got on with his life.

But sometimes it isn’t easy. Getting two small children up and off to daycare first thing in the morning can be a challenge, and often Ted doesn’t make it into work until 9 a.m. , despite the fact that his office opens at 8.

Lately Ted’s boss has been bothered by the fact that he shows up an hour late for work every day. How she handles the situation will have an impact that goes far beyond her relationship with Ted. It will affect the entire office – for better or for worse.

We tend to believe that a workplace should function smoothly and without conflict. Our vision of the perfect workplace is one in which co-operation and camaraderie flourish and work gets done in an orderly fashion.When something goes awry and conflict does emerge, we feel guilty and ashamed, as if we’re the only ones who can’t figure out how to get along.We can’t possibly admit our shortcomings to others. We need to preserve the illusion of a harmonious workplace at all costs. And so workplace conflict becomes a deep, dark secret that we hide while the conflict continues unabated.

Workplace conflict is breathtakingly common. In fact, there are parallels between workplace conflict and domestic conflict. Incidences of domestic abuse rose dramatically over the last 20 years, not because they were happening more often, but because more people were reporting them. It’s the same with workplace conflict. A 1976 survey reported that as much as 30 per cent of a manager’s time was spent resolving conflict. In a 1996 survey, the figure rose to 42 per cent. It’s not that workplace conflict is more commonplace. We have simply become more willing to take that particular skeleton out of our closet. Perhaps our tolerance level for any kind of conflict has dipped significantly. Or maybe we’re just more anxious to arrive at a solution.

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