Why Leaders Address Conflict Head-On

leader-e1471893072992If there’s one aspect of the job that managers do their best to avoid, its conflict. Ideally, things would always run smoothly in the workplace. Each person would do their job, goals would be aligned, and differences would magically work themselves out. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. In fact, one study found that the some managers spend up to a quarter of their time working to resolve conflict. That’s a lot of time devoted to an activity that’s simply not a lot of fun. Because conflict resolution is so mentally and emotionally draining, a lot of managers choose to ignore it. They simply look the other way.

It is a lot easier to pretend conflict doesn’t exist. I know several managers who are really good at it. They ignore the fact that key employees aren’t performing. They use deflection to convince others (and themselves) that the team’s poor performance isn’t really theirs to address. They talk a good game, but, like the Emperor parading around without clothes, there’s nothing of substance to see. They’ve mastered the art of conflict avoidance. But according to executive coaching firm Assiem, there are significant repercussions to ignoring conflict.

Ignoring conflict damages morale. Employees who perceive they are being treated differently aren’t happy campers. If you hold some accountable, but not others, moral suffers. If one manager does the right thing, but another doesn’t, morale suffers. It doesn’t matter what you say. It’s what you do that communicates. Ignoring conflict fuels the fire of employee dissention.

Ignoring conflict kills productivity. Top performers thrive in an environment where the leader addresses conflict. When others are allowed to get away with poor performance or bad behavior, those top performers see the disparity and lower their level of effort. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, your team will only rise to the level its lowest performer.

Ignoring conflict lowers customer service. Employees who feel supported and valued will support and value the customer. Those who feel abandoned will do the bare minimum and leave their customer feeling abandoned as well. It’s not uncommon for disgruntled employees to share their frustration with customers they trust. This leaks the issue outside the team, impacting the company’s reputation immeasurably. Even worse is when a customer witnesses first-hand a leader who fails to address an issue unfolding in front of them.

Ignoring conflict hurts retention. Left unaddressed, workplace conflict will drive some employees to leave. Usually, they are your best ones. They won’t announce their intention. They’ll just make up their minds that leadership has failed and look for another team – a better team – to join. One day, you’ll look up and they’ll be gone, leaving you with the low performers you’ve decided to tolerate.

Ignoring conflict impacts your credibility. Your employees talk about you. You know that, right? As the boss, you are in the spotlight. You are a constant subject of conversation amongst your team members, and your credibility rises and falls with each story they share. You can’t stop it, but you can determine the types of conversations they have. Are they sharing their pride in working for a manager who addresses issues, or are they discussing your latest failure to lead?[Tweet “Leaders acknowledge conflict and address it head-on. Ordinary managers don’t.”]

Conflict resolution is not fun, but it is a necessary and critical part of the manager’s job. It’s a key part of what turns a manager into a leader. Leaders acknowledge conflict and address it head-on. Ordinary managers don’t. Odds are, there’s a conflict brewing on your team right now. Name it, tackle it, and watch all of the negatives listed above turn into positives. Watch morale improve, productivity increase, service rise, retention woes reverse, and credibility grow. Choose the path less traveled. Choose to lead.


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