Friday, 25 November 2011

Douse the fire before calamity

An article on cnn.com reported that 24 – 60 percent of Human Resource managers’ time are spent dealing with employee dispute. Prweb.com did a survey on 357 human resource managers across all genre of working industries, profit and non-profit alike. Statistics reflected that 98% of HR managers handle conflict at work. Out of which, 81% have seen conflict resulting in employee’s departure and 77% saw it in terms of employee’s absenteeism.

Conflict in the workplace is a distressing reality that can bring about unpleasant and undesirable consequences if left unchecked and allowed to fester. Conflict is unavoidable when you put individuals, from different backgrounds and cultures, together because every individual will undeniably have his own set of mind, ideas and working style. Reasons why conflicts occur can stretch out to the horizon. It could stem from internal factors such as personality, temper or ego that will affect a person’s ability to lead, follow or compromise. It could also be caused by external factors like stress, pressure & health that plays a part in a one’s reaction which will thereby have an overall domino effect.

If you are not embroiled in the conflict, you become the silent watcher. You see the icy stares darting across the room. You feel the tension arising. But you do nothing to alleviate the situation. It is a common notion to avoid trouble by keeping your silence and not intervene. But sometimes the lack of intervention gives the window of opportunity for things to escalate further into a bigger eruption. Conflicts can easily and quickly rage into deadly flames if sparks are not contained earlier in the game. Most of the time, conflict resolutions are necessary to nip a potential conflict in the bud and prevent it from escalating.

One of Sun Tzu’s strategies was to pick battles wisely. Take heed that not every disagreement is worth turning it into a conflict. Usually after the initial cloud of emotions, you would realise how insignificant the issue really is. In other context, you would also realise that heightened emotions often cause us to lose sight of the main topic and unconsciously let our anger stray. By attacking the speaker instead of the problem outwardly displays inability to control emotions which could ultimately lead a small work disagreement into a personal attack. With that said, at the end of the day, you would realise none of the above will work without good communication and listening skills. With communication, using ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ language and avoiding judgmental remarks or sweeping generalization in a speech are more effective ways to communicate and allows for more empathy amongst colleagues. Hearing is easy while active listening isn’t as simple as it seems. It requires focus and intent from the listener and usually accompanied by acknowledgement of speaker’s message as well as the constant restating/reframing of his statement to show comprehension. A talker who feels he has been heard would be less disgruntled even if his idea was not put into use.

It is easy to allow a spark turn into raging flames while it takes five times the effort and amount time to calm raging flames. Should we really spend our time and effort dousing fire or a shorter time and lesser effort to maintain harmony?

Chief Editor: Jeremy Chan 

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