Working in a small company has it’s ups and downs. On the upside, it makes collaboration easier, allowing everyone to work as a one rather than splitting up into micro-teams. While you get the benefits of operating like a small family, it can also be difficult at times to maintain the delicate balance between being close friends as well as coworkers and professionals.
Spending 40 hours a week with someone is bound to lead to conflicts at some point, but this is even more true in a work environment where everyone is in close quarters. While this work atmosphere can be fun and engaging, it can quickly become suffocating when a conflict arises. It can cause a shift in the workplace climate that affects everyone – not only those involved in the dispute.
Oftentimes, in small companies with no HR department to go to, workers will suppress even the smallest issues to avoid the disruption of this delicate balance in order to keep tension at the office from getting in the way of productivity.
However, this can sometimes backfire, and end up something like this…
The Cost of Workplace Conflicts
So why should you invest the time and resources into making sure small disputes don’t evolve into scenes from Jerry Springer? Workplace conflicts go beyond simply being “uncomfortable” for employees; they can be downright costly for the company if not solved smoothly and efficiently. According to research on workplace dynamics by conflict-researcher Dan Dana, over 65% of performance problems stem from tension between employees in the workplace, rather than individual lack of skill or motivation.
Personal issues – even seemingly small and trivial ones – can lead to a lack of passion and motivation in employees which will then be reflected in their engagement in the company and the quality of their work.
But it goes beyond lack of motivation and lost productivity. According to a study on workplace conflict, U.S. employees spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict. About 22% admit that workplace conflicts have led to absences or illnesses and 10% report that it has led to project failures. What this translates to is billions of dollars – yes, you read that right – of lost revenue.
In extreme cases, personal conflicts can even cause employees to leave if they feel their needs are not being met. A Canadian study on workplace conflict found that 81% of HR professionals have witnessed an employee leaving the organization over an unresolved conflict.
Workplace Conflict Management
Keeping personal and professional relationships separate would seem like the obvious quick-fix, but unfortunately this cookie-cutter solution does not fit all personalities or company cultures. So how do you prevent personal conflicts at work from snowballing into a major issue and disrupting productivity?
Take a Step Back
Before taking any action, take a step back from the situation and separate yourself from your emotions to truly evaluate the problem. What is it that is actually getting under your skin? Is there actually malicious intent behind their actions? If not, it may simply be a matter of letting them know what’s on your mind.
Be honest with yourself and consider what you might be doing to contribute to the problem. For example, if you feel like you’re overloaded while a fellow coworker is slacking, have you actually made an effort to ask for help? If you’ve failed to communicate your needs, it isn’t fair to blame someone else for failing to meet them.
Nip it in the Bud
Don’t wait until an issue has festered for days or weeks. Instead, bring it up right when it starts. Many will try to avoid conflict by brushing it under the rug, but often, this will only cause the problem to escalate. Addressing the issue from the beginning gives both parties a chance to air their grievances and work towards a solution.
It can be difficult to calmly confront a coworker who has been getting on your nerves. Before you approach them, change your outlook and remember the value they bring to the company. Think back to that time you were overloaded with that major project and they had your back. Remembering the good times will help you keep a positive mindset and will reduce the friction between you and that person.
Take it Outside
Sometimes, the tension can leave even the office itself feeling claustrophobic, so ask your coworker to step out for a few minutes. Take a walk or get coffee together. Not only will this prevent your workspace from being tainted by the negative vibes, but the change of scenery will make you both feel more relaxed. Taking the issue outside of the office will also keep it between the two of you, rather than dragging fellow employees into it.
Put the Company First
Regardless of what the problem is, remember that you both share a common goal: the growth and prosperity of the company. Keeping this in mind gives you both a shared interest to work towards. If you keep your focus on the betterment of the company, you’ll take the spotlight off of personal grudges and be more open to collaborating on finding the best solution.
Don’t Build An Army
When dealing with a personal issue with a coworker in a small company, it is natural to go to fellow co-workers for support or to get their opinions. However, it can be seriously detrimental to a company culture to go to other coworkers about the issue before confronting the coworker with whom you’re having the issue. This can cause dividing lines and turn the workplace into a battlefield, effectively destroying the “team mentality” which is generally a small company’s biggest asset.
Do Enlist a Mediator
While recruiting allies is a no-no, having a neutral “third party” perspective can be beneficial. Instead of gossiping to a non-involved coworker, request their presence as a mediator in a meeting between you and the employee with whom you’re having problems. Having an non-involved party present can help everyone gain a fresh, unbiased perspective.
Especially in a smaller company, the work atmosphere is often the glue that holds everything together. Allowing petty grudges to deteriorate a team’s sense of solidarity can cause the entire organization to crumble. By following these simple steps, you can overcome rough patches and maintain the unity in your workplace, without sacrificing a tight-knit company culture. Happy hour, anyone?