From the Inside Out: Fight the good fight

Departments - From the Inside Out

3 tips to engage and resolve workplace conflicts.

December 17, 2014

Do you ever feel like the vast majority of your time as a leader is spent babysitting people who can’t get along? You are not alone. Studies indicate that managers spend anywhere from 20 to 42 percent of their time trying to manage employee conflict.

In fact, strained work relationships cause 65 percent of employee performance problems. More than 50 percent of employees waste work time worrying about how they’ve been treated. And 22 percent deliberately slow down their work in response to conflict.

Workplace conflict also increases absenteeism and health care costs, reduces the quality of decision making, pushes good employees to leave, increases the likelihood of damage and theft, and lowers morale.

Research indicates it takes 16 hours of hearing about conflict resolution for individuals to begin acting on what they’ve learned. Master resolving conflict, and you’ll enjoy a happier, more productive workforce and a better bottom line. Fail to master conflict and things will get progressively worse.

I addressed Dr. Arnold Lazarus’s seven Rules for Fighting Fairly in the August and September/October 2014 issues. ( and I hope if you’re implementing them, you’re seeing results. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t welcome your new management approach with open arms. It’s extremely hard to change patterns and behaviors, especially when they permeate a company.

Here are three additional rules I’ve uncovered through a quarter of a century of studying, teaching and consulting:

Nip problems in the bud. Just as weeds are easily picked when small, conflict is most easily resolved in its earliest stages. The first time a problem arises, have a conversation. That enables you to address it in a calmer, more collaborative manner than when it has happened multiple times.

You’ll know you need to say something when you’ve spent more than 15 minutes thinking about what happened. Your energy and attention will no longer be focused on moving forward, but on looking backward. And, if you know you’ll be angry if it happens again, assume it will and nip it in the bud.

Avoid piling on. This provides protection, and it also helps messages be heard. Here’s a personal example of the ill effects of piling on. Years ago, as I was leaving to start my doctorate, a colleague informed me that I had upset him. I listened and apologized. He then told me something else he believed I’d done wrong. Again, I apologized. Feeling beaten up, my reply to his third complaint was, “OK.” Having no interest in being his punching bag, I politely ended the conversation when he started his fourth concern. Were his complaints valid? Perhaps, but his piling on resulted in me self-protecting by tuning him out and dismissing what he had said.

Reflect back the key points you’ve heard before responding to someone’s concerns. People will more easily accept your viewpoint or a decision that they don’t agree with once they know you’ve heard their thoughts. Ignore this step and they’ll either shut down, believing there is no point in talking to you, or they’ll increase the volume and intensity of their argument in an effort to help you better understand what they are trying to say and its importance.

There you have it: 10 rules for fighting fairly that significantly increase your likelihood of being heard and enable conflicts to be resolved quickly and civilly. Each rule is designed to cut down the static conflict causes, and to enable the involved individuals to create win-win solutions that will benefit you, your employees and your organization.

Create a workplace environment that ensures its employees feel valued, respected and heard.


Human relations expert Dr. Sherene McHenry works with organizations who want to maximize productivity and enhance profitability.