Editorial: Turning conflict into profit

You may be married, you may have kids or you may be a member of the United Nations. Chalk up any or all of those credentials, and you still may not be prepared to handle workplace conflict effectively.

Dealing with conflicting employees can make you envy more automated work environments. You rarely see the assembly processes responsible for the parts you sell or install suffer in quality or inconsistency due to an off remark or a pilfered Mountain Dew. Robotics don’t bicker. There are no workplace politics or employee tensions when you remove the human element. Those systems run trouble free, needing only an occasional tweak to the computer code or a little light maintenance.

Distributorships and service shops face a far more troublesome fix. When employees go head to head, the solutions can be far more nuanced and elusive.

People have personalities, and not everyone gets along. In fact, some people are just simply incompatible Your most talented service technician may be at odds with the parts runner for no other reason than he failed to utter a simple thank you or please. Or didn’t say happy birthday, not even knowing there was a birthday to acknowledge.

These seemingly innocuous interactions can breed resentment. Unfortunately, during the course of a business day, there is much more to fret over than employee issues. Keeping the bottom line in the black takes precedence, so management often is either unaware of a problem or chooses to ignore it because of other priorities.

But internal employee conflict problems rarely stay internal. A spat between two employees easily can snowball and other employees may choose sides. Whole departments can turn against one another. This then spills over the parts counter, leaks into the phone system and taints employee interactions with customers. Customer satisfaction may suffer.

Suddenly, it very much becomes a bottom-line issue. And, as a manager or owner, it becomes your bottom-line issue. Chances are if you’re in this business, you don’t have a degree in psychology or social work. But all eyes and expectations are on you to resolve the conflict and keep the peace.

In this month’s cover story we take a look at practical ways to settle workplace conflict, offering a how-to guide to get employees to see eye to eye, put their differences aside and get back to work. You will even learn that a degree of conflict can be a positive thing.

The experts we spoke with suggest conflict – when channeled effectively – can lead to a more productive workplace as employees energize each other and more aggressively solve problems.

Acting on an employee dispute quickly, sitting the parties involved down and rationally looking at the issue can not only resolve the conflict, it can reveal areas in your business where procedures and systems can be improved for greater efficiencies and profits.

Add to that not sharing your business’ dirty laundry with customers, and resolving conflict should move up on your list of priorities.

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