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It doesn’t have to be your cost

Conflict can often escalate quickly almost arbitrarily.  It can often seem as if it “comes out of no-where”.  We presume that the cost, is a “necessary evil” and unavoidable even before considering the personal costs and consequences.  But, this does not have to be true for all organisations.  Many can mitigate the costs entirely.

Organisations can manage the cost and escalation of conflict by enabling a culture where employees feel in control and empowered.  When they empower employees to negotiate through difficult situations they create a win win all involved.  To measure the impact of this approach, any organsiation will benefit from:

  • Systems and methods to track and manage the costs of conflict to the organisation
  • Clear interventions to pre-empt the escalation of the conflict and its cost

You can anticipate / evaluate the costs with minimal expense

As with any business expense, we need to break down and analyse exactly how much conflict costs the organisation.  This will not just be in terms of actual costs (legal, HR etc).  It will also be in terms of how much management time, sick leave, opportunity cost etc. the organisation has lost.  Even at a basic level, when we do this exercise we are better equipped to make decisions about conflict situations.  Consequently the decisions we make are more likely to be grounded in fact rather than emotion.

A starting point is to review with key individuals and clients how effectively conflict is addressed using simple questionnaires and sometimes interviews.  Then we can marry that information with financial and HR data.   When we do this, we create a baseline to measure the impact of any future spend and interventions.   For example, we may start to clarify the potential costs of going to tribunal versus the cost of settlement.  We can then make an informed, coherent decision based on that analysis.

Be aware of creating a culture of conflict escalation

The organisation can actually fuel conflict through its disciplinary and grievance culture.  This may sound counter intuitive.  Nevertheless it happens because the culture forces parties to take positions which are hard to come back from. Often the original issue pales into insignificance in relation to later allegations that become set in stone by the process.

This culture also creates a mind set in which we prepare to be “disciplined” or “aggrieved”.  As a result we can start to feel victim to or controlled by the other person or the organisation.  The net effect of this is that the allegations drive a wedge between the individuals making them and so the conflict escalates.  What we experience then is that we have to justify ourselves or that we are being attacked.  This can be a major distraction from the job in hand, trigger mental ill health and feelings of low confidence and self esteem. All of these effects risk a negative effect on productivity and cause the organisation to incur significant cost.

Conflict can be pre-empted through an Early Resolution Culture

Organisations can create an Early Resolution Culture relatively simply.  As a starting point, we can change the terminology of the Disciplinary Process.  We can achieve this by creating a different language to talk about the process of engaging in conflict.  This can include an “Early Resolution Scheme”, “Resolution Agents” etc.  When we change our language in this way we start to change the psychological contract between the employer and the employee.  Through this change we replace the perception that “we are disciplined or aggrieved” to one in which “we find an early resolution”.  We can use simple management touch-points to support such a scheme.  These can include:

  • Mentoring: Guiding new employees in the organisation’s culture and expectations, supports the employees to sign up to those cultures and expectations from the beginning.  Later on, where the employee has a challenge or an issue, they have someone they trust to talk it through.
  • Informal coaching: Enabling employees to coach each other through challenges can reduce all of our tendancies towards gossip, criticism, blame and shame.  It encourages also individuals to feel more empowered and a more equipped to make choices and take responsibility for those choices.
  • Informal mediation: although some ground rules and processes are essential to make this work, a facilitated or informally mediated conversation can turn around a business and team relationship
  • Referral to mediation at appropriate points: incorporating mediation as part of the organisation’s normal practice means that it does not feel such a “big deal” when it happens.  This makes mediation more easy to engage with if and when it happens.

SO WHAT NOW?

 

The costs of conflict do not have to be inevitable there are solutions and tools for the organsiation and employee.

Clearly I have not covered the individual costs of conflict here.  However, once the organisation takes responsibility for the costs of conflict and puts in place measures to address it, employees are more able to do the same.

If you would like to use any of our online questionnaires to analyse the cost of conflict to your organisation you can contact us and we will send them out to you.  Also The 7 Principles of Conflict Resolution by Louisa Weinstein coming out in June sets out in detail how we can mitigate the organisational and individual costs of conflict.  If you want to know more, get in touch, we are more than happy always to chat things through.