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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Workplace Conflict � Facilitating a Peaceful Outcome

It is worth remembering that the work environment is primarily an unconventional setting for adults. At home we may have responsibilities for bringing up children, paying mortgages, doing DIY and being good neighbours. These are all self-regulating activities and most people manage to do these without too much stress. The workplace however often requires us to leave our adult instincts at the door and adopt a ‘role-play’ approach in order to fit in with the prevailing culture. Such a setting can encourage competition which in itself can encourage the individuals within it to raise their game and perform better than they may do alone. On the other hand, this competitive ‘system’ can lead to behaviours that seem to conflict with adult best practice. When disagreements arise, the consequences can often be ugly and lead to ongoing stress and low morale amongst those involved. Below we shall look at how such a situation may arise and how a facilitated discussion might help.

Let us take an example – Joe is in charge of business development for an IT consulting firm. He has successfully negotiated a key contract to develop some software for a hedge fund company. The negotiations were difficult, considering that a competitor was also bidding for the same project. Joe is very pleased to have won the deal. A team is assembled to design and deliver the system. It is estimated to take six months and cost £200,000. There are financial penalties involved for late delivery. The project seemingly starts well but as it progresses, Kevin, the Project Manager is getting stressed and key deadlines are being overshot. Five months later, it is clear that the project is way behind schedule and the company looks likely to incur penalties. Whilst Joe had consulted with his analysts before pricing the deal, he had ignored some of their concerns about a particularly complex module of the work. The analysts couldn’t quantify how potentially complex it might be until they started the work. In the end Joe decided to ‘wing it’ by taking the most optimistic scenario, i.e. that the module would be easy to develop.

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