Escalating conflict

posted by Scott McKenzie

A few years ago I had a slightly uncomfortable moment while working at a world famous Oil & Gas company.

I was in a meeting with a client when one of her stakeholders knocked on the door and asked to speak to her. My client went out into the corridor where the two of them proceeded to have what I can only describe as a “right barney”. For non-native English speakers -”barney” could be translated as a prolonged – and very vocal – argument.

Clearly it was both an uncomfortable and awkward situation. It highlighted the level of pressure both individuals were under. And the lack of awareness that they had around the impact their behaviour had on those around them.

The incident came back in to my mind as a result of some data the CIPD released earlier this week around conflict in the workplace.

The CIPD research makes an explicit link between the challenging economic circumstances with increased levels of conflict.

This is not really a surprise. Over the last couple of years most of us have had to adhere to the maxim “more for less” as we seek to reduce inefficiency and increase productivity.

But this can lead to a human cost. More workload, tighter deadlines, more stress. Is it any wonder that stressed employees then find themselves in conflict situations?

For people managers this puts even greater focus on their communciations. Do they have the skills, capability and experience to manage this conflict? Can they recognise the underlying issues and handle them with emotional intelligence?

This is one of the great cross-over points between communications and HR, pyschology and management. And it’s something we have some experience here at H&K  in tackling.  For example, we work with a fabulous Organisational Pyschologist called Arndis Jonsdottir who is really adept at understanding what the underlying causes for conflict are.

We also offer a great Leadership Communciations course  which has a specific section on managing conflict. I’d be happy to talk to you about it.

Whether you enlist our help or not there seems little doubt that conflict in the workplace is a significant issue. One you can’t afford to ignore.

1 Comment


Ines Alcobia

Conflict is that word people hear and just want to pretend it’s nothing to do with them or they don’t want to get involved.

But in fact I think conflict can be a great motivator. Conflict creates competition, and in a time when money is short and benefits are being cut, it’s good to have that conflict to get people fighting for hard earned rewards.

Saying that, I don’t believe all conflict is healthy and it is awkard when like in your situation, you were the third person and were probably affected with a bit of aftermath from that conflict. I think it’s fantastic that H&K has an organisational psychologist and a leadership course.

One of the units in my (BA) PR and Comms course looks at conflict and negotiation in the workplace. What H&K have invested in to help their employees were exactly some of the examples we discussed in- class along with the use of mediators during face-to-face meetings between conflicting employees.

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