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MANAGEMENT MATTERS


The workplace can be rife with disagreements and personality clashes,


Managing the tide of conflict


so just what is the best way for management to deal with such problems? Susie Andrade investigates


C


ONFLICT is an unavoidable aspect of everyday business life and an inevitable aspect of life experience itself. Understanding how it starts


and how it escalates goes a long way towards knowing how to manage it. Forget the ‘politically correct’ overtones,


diversity really does need to be managed. It is the related aspects of our differences – personality, skill, knowledge and experience – which, when combined, offer synergy that fuels an organisation’s competitive advantage, but when mismanaged can result in severe conflict. New technology, multi-generational


cohorts operating side-by-side, environmental concerns and globalisation are all forcing profound changes, not only in how we work but also in the nature of our work environment. Collectively these have given


16 businesslife.co August/September 2011


rise to an increase in the number of conflict cases in recent years, which have resulted in employment tribunal cases increasing in unprecedented numbers. Managing conflict at work, including disciplinary and grievance cases and preparing for employment tribunals, costs the average employer nearly 450 days of management time every year – equivalent to the time of two full-time managers. Too many employers are still relying on HR to manage conflict at work through official channels. To make a real difference, though, these workplace problems must be nipped in the bud before they have to be dealt with using formal procedures. That means involving line managers


much more. Training in conflict management and mediation is essential if line managers are to become more competent and confident in managing conflict. Only then will the waste of management time be reduced and more


harmonious and productive working relationships can be allowed to develop. The prospect of taking action to manage


conflict can be quite daunting to some managers, but it’s a core part of their role and responsibilities. If managers ignore unacceptable behaviour, problems will escalate until the disciplinary process has to be used or a formal grievance is lodged – by which time it will be much harder to achieve a successful resolution. Opinions will already have hardened and confrontational stances on both sides will have developed that are very difficult to change.


Challenging landscape Managing conflict at work is becoming more of a challenge for employers, and the introduction of new employment legislation in recent years has added to the challenges. Since 2003, new regulation has come into


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