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Quality Insider

The Pros and Cons of Workplace Conflict

Published: Monday, October 20, 2008 - 11:43

(CPP Inc.: Mountain View, California) -- In western culture, we tend to think of the term “conflict” in the negative. When discussing conflict in the business world, we generally speak of it as a diminishing force on productivity, an ill that only compounds the difficulties of a job, and an element that needs expunging if companies are to achieve their goals. Normally seen as the byproduct of a “squeaky wheel” rather than a natural derivative of business itself, conflict is a force that causes short-term anxieties, and many view “fixing” ongoing conflict as synonymous with “eliminating” it.

CPP Inc. commissioned research, in partnership with OPP Ltd. in Europe and Fellipelli in Brazil, to shed light on the nature of workplace conflict—defined for the purposes of this study as any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work.

The study, which polled thousands of workers in all industries from nine countries, reveals the substantial cost of workplace conflict. According to the report, workplace conflict is a nearly universal occurrence, with 85 percent of all workers reporting that they deal with it. Employees say that conflict can lead to personal injury or attacks, illness, or absence from work. Additionally, workers report project failure as a direct result of conflict.

“These figures should be a wake-up call to industry leaders,” says Jeff Hayes, CEO of CPP Inc. “Companies are losing billions of dollars because of poorly managed conflict, and we expect that figure to grow in a down economy as stress and workload—two of the biggest causes of conflict—rise.”

However, the study also shows that properly managed conflict actually benefits an organization, the key determinant being whether it trains its managers to handle differences constructively.

Positive outcomes are directly tied to conflict management training. Countries with high incidences of training report high proportions of positive outcomes, while countries in which training is less prevalent report low proportions of positive outcomes.

In the United States, 81 percent of workers report having seen positive outcomes from workplace conflict. Nearly half of all surveyed said that they had emerged from workplace conflict with a better understanding of their co-workers. Improved working relationships and better problem-solving skills were also benefits. However, the best outcome was increased innovation and higher performance.

“Conflict is a normal and essential part of the human condition that companies should work to manage rather than eliminate,” says Rich Thompson, director of research, CPP Inc. “An organization without conflict may also lack that all-important creative spark.”

For more information, visit www.cpp.com/PRESS/Workplace_Conflict_Study.asp.

To read the complete report, visit http://img.en25.com/Web/CPP/Conflict_report.pdf.

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CPP Inc.