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Unresolved Conflict is Organizational Bloodletting
by Rhoberta Shaler, PhD

Unresolved conflict is like bloodletting: immediate pain, a big mess, then, a slow draining while no one does anything – or worse yet, they sit around and silently watch it happen. The results can be fatal. Slow seeping losses cannot be ignored. On the job or in the family, they can also be deadly. We have to wake up and stop the bleeding.

Graphic, yes! But, we need to pay attention. We are too often too complacent for too long. Profits drop, anger flares and productivity declines when conflict is not addressed.

In the 2001 book, Conflict Resolution, Daniel Dana states: "Research studies show that up to 42% of an employee's time is spent engaging in or attempting to resolve conflict." That’s serious bleeding! Can you afford to have 42% of your payroll dollars, being drained in that way? More importantly, can you allow your own time, energy, creativity and passion to be?

This is a major ‘energy leak’. Think about it. You get up on a Monday morning, looking forward to a great week at work. As you’re driving in, you remember that last week, your co-worker managed to take the credit for the work the two of you did together. (Energy leak.) Then, you remember the look that co-worker gave you across the table as she spoke of ‘her’ success. The look said, “Don’t make a scene. Let me have this one.” (Energy leak.) You notice the feelings of anger, betrayal, shock and unfairness that ran through your body at that time. (Energy leak.) You begin to dread seeing her in twenty minutes. (Energy leak.)

Sound familiar? Sure, things happen at work. Ambition leaps over integrity. It’s not pretty. AND, it needs to be addressed. On TV, Donald Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, shows beginnings of cracks in the integrity shield. In the beginning, all players were focused on their team winning. As the show progresses, it will have to come down to only one person winning. Will ambition leap over integrity? Will the dogs eat the dogs until only one remains alive? This supposed insight into the workings of big business cannot translate well into the day-to-day operations of the average organization.

On the whole, people have to learn to play nicely together at work. The question is, “Who’s teaching them?” When I go into an organization where folks are at each other’s throats, it’s often very late in the game. They are screaming, “Fix this mess!” Usually, that means, “Fix the other guy!” or “Make my employee relations problems go away!” Freely translated, it means ‘remove this pain and make my life easier.” The energy leaks have turned into a flood. No one can pay attention to the work because they are being swept up in the current tidal wave. There’s anxiety, anger, irritability and fear. The organization or department is bleeding to death. You need a tourniquet immediately and a strategy for removing unnecessary sharp objects from the workplace.


Call in an outside expert. By the time conflict has escalated to severe blood loss, you need expert help immediately. It’s a 911 business call. Save the employee. Save the company. Do it now!

A manager, or even the CEO, is too invested in an immediate fix to understand the patients’ pain, diagnose the situation and negotiate a remedy. They are too close to the blood. They want to ‘sew ‘em up and get them back on the front lines—a surgical solution. That’s a short-term gain leading to long-term pain.

An outside expert can apply a tourniquet and stop the blood flow. It is important to be out of the ‘’feelings’ mix that complicate inside help. He or she is in a better position to see all sides, mediate the issues and insure a solution more focused on overall health and wellness of the company. And, that is the focus of the expert’s work. She is not trying to run a company, meet deadlines, oversee operations AND mediate a conflict.

THE REMEDY Certainly, a tourniquet is a quick fix but that’s not all that’s needed. According to Webster, a remedy is something that corrects or counteracts a disease or condition. That’s where the really progressive, successful organizations shine.

Workplace conflict can have very high costs. There is a huge increase in employment lawsuits. In the mix of wrongful termination, discrimination and sexual harassment, AND all the slights, disputes, squabbles and power struggles leading up to them, you have a recipe for low morale, increased absenteeism, and down-turned productivity. Then, add the tendency of people to rush to court. Your workplace then is filled with fear and the courts are teeming with litigation. Talk about a major energy leak!

So, the damage is done and the tourniquet is in place. The pressure is off. This is a dangerous stage because you might drift off into unconsciousness; you think the problem has been abated and you turn your attention to other urgent things.

Wake up! The problem is still there. The wound is still seeping. No healing is taking place.

Wherever people work together, conflict arises. Pro-active conflict management and communication training is the preventative solution. That’s simple. If your organization is thinking that such training is a waste of time and money, think of the “42% of an employee's time is spent engaging in or attempting to resolve conflict." Can you possibly afford not to train your people? Of course not, and, the sooner the better.

Train your people all at once? Although it is the best solution as it creates a level playing field of skill-development and provides structured opportunities to discuss the issues, it is not always possible to shut down your operation. If that’s true, train them all within a very short period of time. Don’t leave anyone at a disadvantage because of lack of training.

Bill Gates says that ‘education is the best preparation for being able to adapt.’ Educate yourself. Educate your people. You simply do not have 42% of the expertise, experience, energy, time and creativity to lose every day!

© Rhoberta Shaler, PhD

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD may be contacted at

Dr. Rhoberta Shaler, a noted international speaker and author, is the founder of the Optimize! Institute, and Your Spiritual Home, a worldwide center for Practical Spirituality & Everyday Myth. Her mission is "To uplift, inspire and motivate people worldwide to find joy, peace and success on their own terms". She is the author of Optimize Your Day: Practical Wisdom for Optimal Living and Wrestling Rhinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work, as well as many other books and audio programs.


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