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Conflict and Negativity in the Workplace


Not all conflict is unhealthy. If it’s the clash of competing and creative ideas, count yourself lucky. If it’s negative behavior that is impacting productivity and harmony in the workplace it’s critical to separate facts from emotion and make hard choices about the “cost” of the disruption.


I firmly ascribe to the idea that behavior is largely a function of its consequences. If you are in a supervisory or managerial role that means that you will shape behaviors by what you do and by what you do not do when faced with employee performance issues. In those situations where you observe negativity and conflict in the workplace, it often is in the form of attitudes and behaviors directed toward co-workers and/or management. These attitudes, these behaviors can easily impact morale and productivity in a department.


As a manager I encourage you to remember that your attention should be focused on correcting behaviors and not on changing personalities. (There’s an old joke, maybe it’s a play, where the punch line from the young fiancé is “I love you. You’re perfect. Now change.” You can’t give people a sense of humor. You can’t change their outlook on life. You can define and clarify acceptable behavior. You can identify how their negativity or conflict causing behavior impacts productivity. You can point out how this type of behavior impacts the productivity of others. Negativity wastes time. Negativity can spread like the plague if not responded to. Negativity and conflict allows the worker to deflect or avoid accountability…if tolerated. This reinforces my earlier comment that managers will constantly shape behaviors on the job by what they do and by what they don’t do. It goes with the job.


When addressing these behaviors always ask the worker to state their business related reasons for their behavior and be prepared to respond in a business-like manner. Do not allow emotional reactions to derail the business specific reasons for defining acceptable versus unacceptable workplace behaviors. Ask for their help in resolving the situation; but be clear in your expectations and next step consequences in the event there is no improvement.


You as the Manager, should set a follow-up schedule to review progress. You should also look for opportunities in the interim to acknowledge and positively reinforce observed effort and progress. Continued unacceptable negativity and conflict causing behavior should be immediately addressed.  Needless to say, physical conflict should never be tolerated or unaddressed.


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