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May 23, 2018

Small Business Advice

Ignored conflicts just keep growing

"The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Jerry Osteryoung | 12/16/2013

No matter how much time and energy you spend on teambuilding, conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. People are people, and disagreements are going to happen.

In a recent study, top CEOs were asked what their major issues are, and No. 1 on the list was – you guessed it – managing conflict.

Some managers just pretend that conflict does not exist, but doing so only perpetuates the problem. When left alone, conflict festers and grows until it becomes almost unmanageable.

Bottom line – dealing with conflict is your job as a leader. If you are going to be effective in that role, you cannot shy away from it. Many are uncomfortable with conflict, but a good leader learns how to embrace it and address it head on.

I think most conflict is caused by a lack of communication or when emotions trump reason.

When communication is lacking, people can make very erroneous assumptions. For example, two employees were vying for the same job. Somewhere along the way, one heard that the other was going to be selected, which triggered major friction.

To avoid this situation, all management had to do was keep both employees in the loop on where they were in the selection process and how long it would be before there was a decision. Without adequate information, our minds play tricks on us.

Essentially, the more you communicate, the more effectively you are able to lead. When you do not communicate clearly and often, conflicts arise.

In my mind, emotions are the culprit in most workplace conflicts. Right in the middle of it all, fanning the flames, is ego. Some people have very little control over their egos, and the results can be explosive when this overrides good behavior.

With one firm I was helping, a manager and an employee were not getting along at all. The employee felt strongly (emotion) that her boss was not showing her enough respect, and the supervisor felt that the employee was just too sensitive.

Though the conflict started out small, it grew out of control because the supervisor’s boss refused to intervene. Eventually, both employees — and they were both great employees — wanted to quit because they could not stand one another.

It took counseling and some serious discussions to get them on the right path. They will never be close friends, but I was able to get them to a place where they can tolerate one another and be productive.

In next week’s column, I will go into more depth about how to handle conflict.

Now go out and make sure that you are not ignoring conflict just so you do not have to deal with it. You should be embracing this responsibility as an important part of your role as a leader.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here.

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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