Employee Conflict: Do Today’s Workers Know How to Lose Gracefully?

Crew members (workers) engaging in mutiny against their clueless captain (manager), as illustrated by John Clarke for All Hands on Deck

“Conflict in the workplace can be a healthy and positive thing for your company,” Forbes contributor David Roth writes in a recent column. “It means you have a variety of personality types, each with their own way of approaching problems… and even differences in perception of what is a problem and what isn’t.”

Healthy and positive, perhaps. Do most entrepreneurs and owners of start-up companies know how to settle workplace conflicts effectively, though? Do some think it’s easier to just suck it up and let it pass? If you ignore it, will the tension simply fade away?

I’m afraid not. An untreated blister doesn’t dissolve when you keep wearing the same uncomfortable pair of shoes each day. A strategically placed Band-Aid isn’t necessarily the answer either.

Roth writes about dealing with workplace conflict from the start. He advises business owners to take the time to put real thought into developing a healthy framework for dealing with employee disagreements as part of the company culture. That’s solid advice.

Where Roth and I part company is with item number four on his list of five things he’s learned about healthy conflict: “There must be an understanding that if you don’t ‘win’ you must respect that and get on board with the opposition.”

Isn’t this something we learned as children – on our first Little League team, or as a member of our elementary school’s basketball team with a record of 1-9? Is today’s workforce filled with a pool of workers who never learned how to lose gracefully? I’m thinking, yes!

In the last 20-plus years, team sports among our youth have seen the demise of traditional competition. This, in turn, has resulted in the absence of learning genuine good sportsmanship. Line up for your trophies – everyone’s a winner. The art of being a gracious loser has been thwarted by feel-good gamesmanship. We’re now in a position where business consultants and columnists need to offer remedial education in how to behave on the job when your opinion or proposal doesn’t carry the day. What a shame.

But, I digress.

Richard Warner takes the concept of different workplace personalities a step further in All Hands on Deck: Choosing the Right People for the Right Jobs. Using the analogy of a voyaging ship and its crew, Warner teaches business owners to identify who they’re hiring before they hire them. Understanding personality types and knowing how to handle the strengths and weaknesses of the individual employee will give you a concrete advantage toward minimizing workplace conflicts.

Building a cohesive team at the outset is a productive solution for resolving conflicts. Warner understands completely what Roth is talking about when he writes that “some leaders may be tempted to stick their heads in the sand.” In All Hands on Deck, Warner warns: “Deferring confrontation will only prolong your misery and allow the curse of the Stowaway to spread.” The Stowaway? (The book’s Chapter Seven explains it all.)

If you want to avoid playing referee, and instead focus your energy on growing your business, don’t get caught adrift with a crew of misfits or whiners. Roth may believe workplace conflict can be healthy, but Richard Warner can tell you stories (with humor) of when it’s not.

Note: The Armarium Press now offers All Hands on Deck in both print and e-book editions.

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