Warring Egos, Toxic Individuals, Feeble Leadership

We surveyed Canadian Human Resource professionals to identify the causes and effects of workplace conflict. As expected, our study found that almost all HR professionals (99%) deal with conflict. The most common causes of conflict are warring egos and personality clashes (86%), poor leadership (73%), lack of honesty (67%), stress (64%), and clashing values (59%).

These conflicts frequently result in negative outcomes. Three out of four have seen conflict result in personal insults and attacks, and 43% have witnessed someone being fired. 81 % of those surveyed have seen conflict lead to someone leaving the organization, and 77% have seen it result in sickness or absence.

Yet workplace conflict can also have benefits. HR professionals have seen conflict lead to better solutions to problems and chal¬lenges (57%), major innovations (21%), increased motivation (31%), a better understanding of others (77%), and higher work team performance (40%). Clearly, conflict is not always harmful, but can add to the suc¬cess of an organization.

The challenge is managing conflict in a way that leads to positive conclusions. Given the number and frequency of negative outcomes of conflict, and the impact of the positive ones, it is not surprising that nine out of ten people rate the ability to handle conflict as a very important or criti¬cal leadership skill.

However, there is a serious gap between the importance of conflict management skills and the effectiveness of current leaders. 18% of those surveyed indicated that current management and leadership is not at all effective at dealing with conflict, and 63% said that they are only somewhat effective. This finding shows that there is a lot of room for improvement in the management/leadership ranks when it comes to dealing with conflict.

Those surveyed said that Canadian managers can do more to deal with conflict effectively. Recommendations include: manage toxic individu¬als more firmly (75%), provide more clarity about their expectations (77%), and model appropriate behavior (84%). These recommendations seem to be no-brainers, suggesting that when it comes to dealing with conflict, some managers are avoiding an important part of their job.

Our study demonstrates that conflict has negative causes and negative outcomes. It is apparent that conflict is not easy to handle. Yet when properly managed, conflict can lead to improved personal relationships and better organizational performance. If organizations invest in conflict management training, leaders can harness conflict’s creative energy.

Download the complete study along with tips for managing conflict.

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