The rising cost of workplace conflict

 In Blog

When we think of conflict resolution in the context of the workplace, our mind may go to bullying and harassment policies or communication skills.  A typical google search may tell you

“There are broadly two kinds of workplace conflict: when people’s ideas, decisions or actions relating directly to the job are in opposition, or when two people just don’t get along. The latter is often called ‘a personality clash’.” 1

Others, will outline the early signs of conflict, such as

  • Anger
  • Productivity slowdowns
  • High turn-over
  • Loss of trust
  • Anxiety

It is widely recognised that conflict in the workplace is bad for business, leading to reduced productivity, absenteeism and for the team increased stress and disengagement.

We believe however there is a third type of office conflict, that introduced by third parties – such as customers or suppliers.

Have you ever felt unsafe at work?  Have your team been threatened by an angry customer, or a supplier has become aggressive or intimidating?

Often referred to as something that just happens as part of dealing with people, this type of workplace conflict can be as insidious as bullying and harassment or a personality clash, especially if left unchecked and the team and manager not provided with effective skills to de-escalate and resolve the situation.

As we have noted in previous blogs, most business fail to recognise or mitigate the risk associated with dealing with aggressive people. Unfortunately, being exposed to aggression can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, heightened stress levels and it can also lead to intention to leave (Deery et al.,2011; Gates et al.,2011).

If you manage a team that deals with customers, consider preparing them for (unfortunate) aggressive situation with customers or clients.  Here are three way to help your team respond more effectively.

  • Remain calm. We know this is easier said than done, however when confronted with an aggressive person, it is important to take a deep breath, and respond in a slow, calm tone, using clear language. Do not engage with aggressive behaviour in return. Provide them space and try not to react to their state.
  • Acknowledge the facts. While it is easy to get caught up in the emotions of an aggressive situation, listen to what the aggressor is saying and acknowledge any facts they express; this will help diffuse  the situation.  It will also provide you an understanding of their concerns.

In most cases an aggressive person wants to be heard and their concerns dealt with.

  • Seek support (and a new location). If you feel unsafe, seek the support of another team member. It is important not to use this as an us-against-them tactic, however bringing a neutral person into the conversation can help diffuse the situation and provides the opportunity to invite the aggressor to restate their concerns in a calm way.

Moving to a new location also provides space for individuals to calm down and help diffuse the situation.

  • Provide your team with training. Prevention is always best! In addition to the Dealing with Aggressive People training we provide, you can support your team with training in mindfulness and building self-awareness around their preferences and likely responses in the workplace.

 Resolution Education provides staff with training that not only build confidence, and control their emotions during an aggressive conversation, it will help identify a potential aggressive situation before it escalates.