“You have to be tough in business ….”

Some business owners or top management in ‘tough’ business sectors take the view that their managers have to be equally ‘tough’ in dealing with staff and there is no room for ‘soft skills’ or a need for effective interpersonal relationships between themselves, their managers and their workforce.

These decision makers are not recognising the serious impact that poorly managed conflict can have on our working lives and the working lives of others. It’s not about whether your management style is ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ – it’s about whether it is constructive or destructive. When it is constructive it brings everyone together with the task in mind – when it is destructive it loses sight of the task and conflict escalates. When considering some of the key fundamentals of a modern workplace e.g. employee engagement, performance management, team work, talent retention, innovation, a positive working environment – conflict has the potential to undermine all of them. It is inevitable.

Some of the statistics globally on this are startling:

70% of employees are disengaged – 18% actively disengaged
An estimated 30% of a manager’s time is spent on dealing with conflict
52% of managers have experienced harassment
Chronic unresolved conflict acts as a decisive factor in 50% of departures and 90% of involuntary departures
26% of employees experienced conflict that led to bullying
80% of non-managers believe that conflict is not handled well by those above them in the organisation
54% of employees think managers could handle disputes better by addressing underlying tensions before things go wrong.
Of the causes cited for conflict, two thirds of Irish workers think personality clashes are the major cause of conflict at work. Research supports this telling us that managers and leaders find it difficult to handle conflict because it is filled with difficult emotional issues that they find very challenging to control or manage. When asked, 30% of managers said they would rather take their first parachute jump rather than face a difficult issue with a staff member.

Ironically, conflict is the single most reducible cost in any company and the least recognised. Being tough on the problems and challenges of business is essential. Being tough on people puts you into the realm of the statistics mentioned above, does not manage conflict as it can be managed and sucks the energy out of your people and your business.

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