Workplace Conflict Infographic

It is often said that workplace conflict is inevitable. Just how inevitable is it? A 2008 study conducted in Europe, the U.S. and Brazil proves this truism. It says that 85% of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree.

To conclude my series on the manager’s role in conflict management, I created an infographic highlighting some other interesting findings from this study. I was particularly struck by a set of statistics that says more managers think they are handling workplace conflict well (31% think so), while only 22% of non-managers agree with them. 43% of non-managers believe that their bosses do not deal with conflict as well as they should.

If you are a manager, this should give you pause. Not because non-managers are necessarily more accurate in their perception, but because there is a disconnect.

It is possible that a manager helped resolve a conflict to the degree possible, but that the resolution wasn’t satisfactory to all parties involved. This could occur for a variety of legitimate reasons. None the less, this could result in that manager being judged as “not dealing with conflict as well as they should.”

It is also possible that non-management employees have different expectations of their bosses than does the organization for which they work. This too could lead to a difference in perception about how well managers handle conflict.

Sometimes employees give away their power, and the personal responsibility that comes with it, to their manager. They might not feel confident in their own ability to handle conflicts. They might not have learned or been taught conflict management skills. These employees may hold managers accountable for conflicts that might have been more appropriately dealt with by the parties directly involved.

Managers are not magically anointed with knowing how to mediate or intervene in conflicts. Unless they have natural intuitive abilities or training in conflict management, it is likely that some managers really are not as good at it as they think.

I mention the above examples to caution you to think carefully about the study results. It is important not to take numbers at face value but to consider a variety of reasons and scenarios that might explain people’s responses to a survey such as this one. With respect to the difference in perception between managers and non-managers about how well bosses handle workplace conflict, there might be a skills gap, an expectations gap or a communications gap.

I encourage managers and their employees to reflect on previous conflicts (once they’ve been dealt with and the heat has passed) to assess what worked, what people expect of each other going forward, and what skills training might be desirable. Use the experience as an opportunity to grow and improve. At the very least, have a conversation to clear the air and turn the page so everyone involved can move on.

In the comment section, let me know what the following study conclusions mean to you. How do you interpret them? What surprises you? What questions do they raise for you? And if you’d like the detailed report behind the study, click here.

Feel free to print out the infographic, if you’d like.

Don’t forget to comment on your thoughts about the stats.