I was sitting with my wife the other night watching the movie Jaws on TV. My wife mentioned to me, during the filming of the movie, the shark was not functioning properly during shooting, This lead to Steven Spielberg to rely on creating suspense without showing the shark. We know it is lurking underneath, waiting to show itself, and this keeps us on the edge of our seats. Still scares me to this day.
This discussion seemed to help unlock a way to explain conflict in the workplace between employees or manager/employees for an upcoming keynote session. Over my years in business I have seen all sorts of personnel problems in the workplace needing to be addressed. Poor employee performance, lack of training, poor hiring, not firing, promotions, demotions, unprepared management, gossip, unrealistic expectations and the list could go on and on.
More than any of these, the one most often lurking beneath the surface, like the shark, is employee conflict. Conflict comes in many forms. When we first think of it, we are reminded of over the top examples of conflict. An argument. An unexpected firing or discipline. A closed door meeting resulting in slamming of doors and raised voices. While these are hurtful to businesses, we must recognize this is the end result conflict that has been brewing under the surface for some time.
Think of a pot of boiling water. Small bubbles begin as the water heats up. Next the water starts to move so the surface is no longer still but you have to look for the ripples. Soon larger bubbles grow and the surface is disrupted. If the pot is covered, soon the top is rattling or contents spilling over causing a mess that has to be cleaned up. All because no one noticed the temperature rising until it was too late.
Why I call this a silent killer for business is the hidden cost of low level conflict can be missed but it is just as disruptive. Think of a time you were not inspired to go to work, due to a poor leader or other employees who disrupted your workspace. Did you feel inspired to do your best? Or could this conflict have lead you to do the bare minimum. What about resentment building up due to someone else being promoted or your ideas not being heard. Bubbles brewing.
Now, not all conflict will boil over into a dramatic situation, but what one must consider is the loss of productivity, or time wasted over petty issues. Even continual turnover of staff may not be recognized until it is too late.
So what can cause this hidden conflict and what can you do to avoid it boiling over or in the case of Jaws, destroy your ship.
Lack of Structure
Individuals need structure to survive. We all need rules to know how far we can go. We all need to know what is expected of us. Even if we want to push the barriers, we need to know what they are.
I was asked for advice by a manager whose team was not performing as well as he had hoped. I spoke to his team and they said their main struggle was the manager changed the rules every day. Today it was ok to do something and tomorrow it was not. So by not having a set structure it caused conflict between action and inaction and affected the team’s performance.
Lack of Clarity
I believe this may be the biggest cause for conflict. Clarity works both ways. Managers not being clear with expectations. Employee questions not being clearly answered thus making them feel like their voice is to be heard. One employee’s frustration was hearing two different ways to execute their job and they felt they had no way to question which was correct. Each of the managers told them they were right. Their performance slowed down worrying about if she would be reprimanded.
Lack of Accountability
Short term vs long term. We all get excited with a new project and everyone is focused so everyone is accountable. What happens over time is the focus shifts to something new and a lack of accountability begins to creep in. Results become spotty. Managers or other employees are not interested in following every step because no one is checking so corners are cut. Some employees get frustrated as others are not held accountable. Or managers are only focused on results, not with following process so employees feel frustrated. This frustration has a dual effect. It could lead to employee turnover or it can drag good performance down to low performance. Why should I try so hard if no one else is.
So Glenn, what are solutions,
I think there is only one place to start and that is Communication. Or better yet, OVER Communication.
You cannot spend enough time communicating, in specific terms, what is expected. Next, as you inspect results, communicating where success or lack thereof happened and what actions caused both. This way you can reinforce the good and tweak what did not work. This creates a culture of unified effort, it calms the waters before they become too choppy and with so many eyes looking out for unrest, it never creeps up on your company because everyone has a responsibility to the whole effort.
One hopes the ending to conflict is not as dramatic as a tank of oxygen, Roy Scheider’s sure aim and an exploding shark. Just know, left unattended, conflict below the surface will eventually rise up and cause irreparable damage. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Now say it with me…Dah dum, dah dum, dahdumdahdumdahdum. (Sorry I had to)
Author: Glenn Pasch
As the CEO of PCG Companies, Glenn works with clients to develop new strategies that will enable their businesses to become more visible, efficient and profitable.
Glenn has more than 25 years of experience with a proven track record of leading diverse teams of professionals and companies to new levels of achievement in a variety of highly competitive industries and markets.