Getting A Handle On Conflict And Annoyance In The Workplace


Angry boss (Shutterstock)
By 
Tammy Binford
Upper Midwest Employment Law Letter

In a perfect world, coworkers would work in harmony and cre­ativity and productivity would soar. No one would have to deal with outright hostility or even petty annoyances. But as every HR professional knows, it's not a perfect world. Dealing with annoyance calls for first identifying what employees find ir­ritating, and a recent survey provides some insights on that front. Dealing with those issues that go beyond annoyance can be tricky, but workplace experts have tips to share.

Annoying Habits And Behaviors

A survey released in March sheds light on the habits and behaviors coworkers find annoying. Topping the list are interrupting, taking credit for someone else's work, oversharing, failing to do work, and arrogance. Those results are in a survey from Quality Logo Products, a company that sells logoed merchandise to companies to use as promotional items.

The survey also found that 57% of respondents have quit or considered quitting a job because of an annoying coworker.

The poll also asked about annoying workplace con­versations. The most troublesome topics were politics, COVID-19, money, religion, and relationships.

In addition to identifying annoying habits and topics, the researchers looked at the differences between remote and on-site workers. When employees were asked if they find their coworkers more or less annoying in a remote setting, 48% said less annoying, 39% said more annoying, and 13% saw no difference.

The most annoying behaviors of remote workers were identified as slow responses to e-mails or instant messages, background noise during video or phone calls, eating on camera, muting and unmuting at inappropri­ate times, and sending messages outside of work hours.

The most annoying behaviors of on-site workers were identified as being messy, coming to work sick, talking too loudly on the phone, using a speakerphone in an open office, and eating smelly food.

The survey also delved into annoying e-mail behaviors, which were identified as sending unnecessary e-mails, replying all on companywide e-mails, unnecessarily marking e-mails as urgent or important, grammatical errors, and sending e-mails to promote personal side hustles.

The most annoying words and phrases used in e-mail were listed as "Thanks in advance," "Best/ All the best/ Best wishes," "Happy [day]! (for example, "Happy Friday!"), "Dear," and "Sincerely."

Tips For Managing Conflict

So how should management handle annoyances as well as the more serious conflicts? An Internet search will turn up no shortage of ideas from various experts ranging from encouraging coworkers to work things out themselves to recognizing when management should intervene.

In April 2021, the Association for Talent Development posted a blog entry offering ideas for both handling and preventing conflict. The suggestions include resisting the temptation to avoid workplace conflict, which the blog entry calls inevitable. Instead, leaders need to con­front the problem and waste no time doing so to keep conflicts from escalating.

The advice also says leaders need to actively listen to both parties and then imagine themselves in the work­ers' shoes. That way they can get a sense of what is caus­ing the problem. Leaders also are reminded to stick to the facts to avoid letting personal feelings affect decisions.

The blog also advises using the conflict as an oppor­tunity for change, growth, and improvement since the organization may benefit from the issues raised and les­sons learned.

To prevent conflict, the blog stresses the importance of communicating business values and taking care to promote positive employee relations. Problems can be avoided when workers are treated with respect and management is transparent and fair.

In March 2022, Harvard Law School's Program on Ne­gotiation posted a blog entry offering other ideas for managing conflict. Among the suggestions: Put formal systems in place to deal with conflict. A goal of "dispute system design" is to engage in low-cost, less invasive ways to manage conflict before resorting to costly, risk­ier methods.

The post gives an example of having workers in conflict try mediation before resorting to an arbitration hearing.

The post also stresses the importance of promoting better feedback. Frustration often is the result of people not knowing how they can improve. Also, vague, overly negative feedback that is too personal produces conflict.

Therefore, people need to be trained on giving effec­tive feedback. Those who give good feedback ask ques­tions, stay positive, and provide details, the post says. Also, good feedback makes it easier for people to raise concerns.

Finally, the post urges focusing on the problem, not the personalities involved. Since conflict can promote com­petition and antagonism, leaders need to look for ways to stay positive by, for example, emphasizing the poten­tial benefits of resolving the situation.

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