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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

Resolving workplace frictions means equipping managers with more than training

This blog is based on a survey we did across different organisations where participants were mainly HR people and also some people managers. The aim of the survey was to inform us on the type of conflicts organisations are facing, the impact it has on them and the strategies used to address them. Here are our first conclusions.

Conflicts arise mostly from performance issues and personality clash. 100% of respondents said that unresolved frictions between people have a real impact - with 55% saying a significant impact. Resolving these conflicts is mostly the job of managers (sometimes with the help of HR).

We know conflicts at work are painful. They affect the bottom line because they absorb time, money, energy, they impact on talent, cause disruption and damage reputations. They affect us, personally and professionally. They have a tendency to spread within and across teams. After all, organisations are made of people! Regaining someone’s engagement, managing turf wars, blockers, negativity. None of this is easy. Whether you’re working to resolve the issues behind the scenes or sitting people down to tackle it head on, these are skillful conversations to have.

But few managers are equipped and trained for this. Most organisations had not trained their managers on this. When they had, the results were mixed as to how effective the training was.

One manager told us he is now very good at this but it did not come naturally to him. It was a tough and long learning curve with a fair amount of failure along the way. He learnt from experience that force / command does not work and he needed to develop strong communication skills to shift people’s positions. Even after all these years, he says frictions at the senior level are particularly challenging because there are fewer places to get support from; you’re expected to know how to resolve these even when the conflict arises from entrenched positions or conflicting priorities.

Now imagine an organisation where managers are skilled at this. These managers would become confident in either intervening directly or helping others involved in conflict. At nipping things in the bud, preventing escalation. This would create a workplace where it is okay to have disagreements because we know how to deal with them and make the most of them - because yes, disagreements are often opportunities for good changes.

In the words of an experienced HR person: it is a myth that emotional intelligence can’t be learnt. Just like we train for marathons, train ourselves on managing mental health or how to speak Italian, we can all learn to navigate complex people situations. It does require a concerted effort. But here’s the thing - it’s not just about training - the learning then needs to be embedded and that’s all about practice. So here’s an idea: what if, when faced with difficult situations, your managers had access to a sounding board to practice and upskill.

If you’re curious and want to explore this, please get in touch.

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