Mismanaging Workplace Conflicts

Monday, October 1, 2012
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Handling workplace tensions should be a priority for frontline managers, but many employees believe their bosses are not up to the job, according to a survey of 2,700 employees released this month by Healthy Companies Intl. in Arlington, Va. Nearly half -- 41 percent -- of employees responding to the survey think the person to whom they report does not deal well with workplace conflicts.

Stephen Parker, president of Healthy Companies Intl., says HR leaders should "first and foremost" model the behavior that best facilitates conflict management: they should "objectively and calmly" summarize the situation for the manager; acknowledge that there are different perspectives and interests in the situation; be honest about their own interests and preferences; and commit to honoring the manager's decision regardless of the outcome. Some managers are in denial because they wrongly think workplace conflicts are a negative reflection on them, he says. However, managing workplace conflict is a core management responsibility, and delaying or avoiding only makes matters worse.

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Seymour Adler, a partner with Aon Hewitt in New York, says HR leaders should let their frontline managers know conflict can sometimes be a "good thing."

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