A team of HR experts on the trick to resolving all those workplace conflicts

Modern Times, The IT Crowd, The US Office, Office Space, UK Office. That’s been my official work culture depiction ranking for some time now. Each of these excels at satirizing a different element of the momentous proletariat cycle in their own way, but none successfully captures the anti-spirit that defines professional social dynamics. Of course, this failure is by design because in truth the worst part about corporate cohabitation is how pedestrian it all is.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that there are real-world tightly knit offices, composed equally of quirky type A’s and downtrodden cubicle zombies, just like there are surely offices comprised of comically incompetent executives juggling a team of rabid scoffers marching on the edge of mutiny. Whether or not either of those is the median, they’re certainly the most compelling to adapt compared to the actuality

When you sever the dramatization, workplace conflict is a lot like line infantry. Over the course of say six months or so, each employee is covertly crafting a taxonomy of vulnerable spots on their colleagues. “Dan is a dry drunk, Chris lost custody of his kids, Max used to be in a ska band, (still is) and James voted for Jimmy McMillan all six times.” The instant any of the little annoying things they do on the day to day surface when you’re having a bad one, the musket gets loaded and the skirmish begins—with each party rigidly waiting for the opportunity to return fire behind a veil of barbed etiquette. The resolution to these kinds of squabbles requires a similarly passive tact as the cumulative half-transgressions that energize them.

“As much as we’d all like to think high school cafeterias are far different from the offices we go to every day, at the root, they have a lot in common,” explained the authors of a new work culture study conducted by NuLab. “A building full of a diverse group of people with different personalities coming together for a common goal applies to each scenario, and, given the variety, there is bound to be conflict. While the workplace relies heavily on teamwork and cohesiveness, dealing with co-workers is one of the most common obstacles.”

“I came here to chew bubble gum and burn bridges…”

There were a total of 1,027 participants that took part in Nulab’s new survey. Forty-six percent of these identified as men and 53.9% identified as women. Fifty-seven percent were entry-level or experienced employees and 42.5% were executives of varying magnitudes of authority. Twenty-eight percent were in their 20s, 39.4% were in their 30s, 18.1% were in their 40s and 14.1% were in their 50s or older. Overall, participants ranged in age from 18 to 74, with a mean of 36.6 and a standard deviation of 10.9.

Just about 37% of the respondents surveyed said that they get into rows with their coworkers a few times a year, and 27% confessed to doing so at least a few times a month. This isn’t to suggest sparring doesn’t tempt most workers daily, the majority just so happen to have the kind of temperament needed to curb the persistent temptation. Twenty-seven percent of employees reported having to deal with a passive-aggressive colleague every single day, while 26% do so weekly, with women citing both scenarios twice as often as their male counterparts. More broadly, one in five respondents thought that “most people they worked with” were annoying to some degree or another.  From the report:

“There are certain things you just shouldn’t do at work; when it comes to avoiding conflict, having an attitude and gossiping are major no-nos. Nearly 70% of respondents said a co-worker’s attitude was the cause of conflicts in the past, while 56.1% said they resulted from a co-worker being disrespectful to others. ”

Polls conducted in the past are in the same company as this new one as it pertains to the processional function of gossip. The office pastime is an ineradicable feature of every job, irrespective of industry, and it at once establishes bonds and dissolves them. Even though 65% of respondents in Nulab’s paper said that they gossip with their associates with some regularity, more than a third outed gossip as the root of their respective conflict.

Whatever the cause, the wake more often than not breaches timesheets. Eighty-eight percent of workers said that office conflicts surge their stress levels across the board. Nearly 40% said it worsened their insomnia, 37% said it impacted their self-esteem, and 26% said it made it harder for them to enjoy their off the clock hours with family and friends.

“Just under 87% of respondents said co-worker conflict affected their day-to-day work satisfaction, while 81.1% said it impacted their employer satisfaction. Considering satisfaction is so low, it makes sense that one-third of Americans considered quitting their job over just a three-month period. And while a majority of Americans thinking about quitting did so due to other factors of low job satisfaction, 1 in 5 respondents said co-worker conflict had a major effect on their likelihood to want to find another job,” Nulab adds

Weighing resolutions

Thankfully Nulab punctuated their detailed survey by picking the brains of office veterans regarding the eclectic methods they’ve adopted in the past in their attempts to diffuse tense worker relations. Forty-three percent of participants agreed that sometimes escalation is simply inevitable, depending on the type of conflict and employee you’re dealing with. One in ten respondents employed the old cold shoulder routine to no avail. Other circumvented one on one confrontation by presenting their side directly to a higher-up: this tends to poison the other party with a tendency for vengeance.

By and large, the most effective way to disarm a loaded musket was by proffering an accord, in a respectful and timely manner. When one of the feuding workers, were clear and direct about what erupted the wrangle in the first place, the opposition is more likely to condition a comparable sober openness about their wrongdoing and their perceived slight. Nearly three-fourths of the participants that used clear communication when confronting their coworker said that the conflict was very quickly resolved,  and three in five employees said the same of taking the initiative to resolve a dispute with a co-worker before aggressions peak.

“Clear communication was by far the most effective method, according to nearly 70% of respondents. Being respectful and addressing the issue right away were also ranked as effective by 52.3% and 43.4% of respondents, respectively,” Nulab concludes.