If you have ever managed people or processes, you have no doubt found yourself in the middle of near constant workplace conflict. In fact, according to a study commissioned by CPP Inc. — publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument — U.S. employees spend 2.1 hours per week involved with conflict, which amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on an average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days. For the purposes of the study, the authors defined conflict as: “any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work.”

According to the report “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” the following statistics demonstrate how pervasive conflict is in the workplace:

  • 85 percent of employees deal with conflict on some level
  • 29 percent of employees deal with it almost constantly
  • 34 percent of conflict occurs among front-line employees
  • 12 percent of employees say they frequently witness conflict among the senior team
  • 49 percent of conflict is a result of personality clashes and “warring egos”
  • 34 percent of conflict is caused by stress in the workplace
  • 33 percent of conflict is caused by heavy workloads
  • 27 percent of employees have witnessed conflicts lead to personal attacks
  • 25 percent of employees have seen conflict result in sickness or absence
  • 9 percent have seen workplace conflict cause a project to fail

The inability for managers to effectively manage conflict and bring about positive resolution is costing them nearly one full day of productivity per month — two and a half weeks per year. It is not surprising that almost all employees recognize the critical need for conflict management skills in the workplace. In fact, the study found that 70 percent believe managing conflict is a critically important leadership skill. And 54 percent of employees believe managers could handle disputes more effectively by addressing underlying tensions immediately when they surface.

And yet, conflict does not have to bring about negative results. When managed effectively, conflict can stimulate progress, deepen trust and strengthen relationships — all of which enhances productivity and optimizes bottom line results.

Around the world, conflict resolution skills are rarely taught as core curriculum in education, which means most adults enter the workplace with little to no knowledge of how to prevent and/or manage conflict.

Training is the single most important driver for high-quality outcomes to conflict. And yet the CPP Inc. study found that almost 60 percent of employees in the U.S. have never received basic conflict management and dispute resolution training. However, of those who have, 95 percent report that it has helped them to positively navigate conflict. Equally important is that almost 60 percent of workers who receive conflict management training report to seek out win-win outcomes when conflicts arise, and 85 percent of people claim to be more proactive when conflict surfaces without taking the conflict personally.

Perhaps the most important fact to surface from this research is that 76 percent of employees who receive conflict management and dispute resolution training experience positive outcomes from conflict:

  • 41 percent developed a better understanding of others
  • 29 percent found a better solution to the workplace problem (this figure rises to 81 percent for U.S. workers)

When employees understand how to manage conflict and harness the positive powers of it, conflict can transition from a cost to the bottom line to an investment in the organization and the people who work for it.

This quote from the report summarizes the positive power conflict can bring to an organization: “If organizations invest in building the awareness of self and others on which better relationships depend, they will see the energy created by interpersonal friction generate sparks of creativity, rather than consuming flames. HR, leaders, and employees must all accept their responsibility for becoming competent conflict managers.”

What is conflict in your workplace costing you? Invest in conflict management and dispute resolution training and harness the creative power conflict can bring to your organization.

Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.