6 strategies to defuse staff personality conflicts

6 strategies to defuse staff personality conflicts


By Sabine Vollmer

One of the many responsibilities Chris Rogers, CPA, CGMA, handles as CFO of Infragistics, a US software developer with operations in Europe and Asia, is resolving staff personality conflicts.

“I see it as one of my core skillsets – discussing and getting two or more parties to understand and appreciate where the other side is coming from,” Rogers said. But he acknowledged it is a responsibility that can be trying at times.

For example, he sat down with a highly skilled and very productive employee who stopped talking to a co-worker because of a perceived slight. Rogers said it took multiple talks to convince the employee his co-worker respected him. Other instances he handles frequently involve conflicts between older, experienced staff and smart, energetic newcomers. Both sides tend to have difficulty accepting traits different from their own, Rogers said.

CFOs currently spend an average 15% of their workweek resolving staff personality conflicts, according to research by Accountemps. Nearly half (47%) spent 10% to 24% of their workweeks on staff personality conflicts. Another 17% dedicated one-quarter or half of their workweeks to handling problems between employees, according to the finance staffing company, which polled more than 2,200 US CFOs.

Accountemps has polled US CFOs about the matter for about 30 years. The average time spent resolving personality conflicts varied from 9% in 1986 to 18% in 2011.

“There are disagreements. That’s healthy,” said Mike Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps. “But you can minimise the amount of time CFOs spend on staff personality conflicts.”

He suggested these six strategies:

Create a company culture where employees can speak their mind. Encourage staff to speak up at meetings and in group projects. Rotate leadership of projects.

Organise community-building events, such as volunteering and charity fundraising opportunities, that help employees get to know and trust each other.

Address a conflict between employees right away, but show empathy and understanding. Demonstrate that it’s a sign of confidence when you’re willing to learn from somebody you disagree with.

Reward positive role models. Dole out praise, promotions, and choice assignments to employees who contribute to a supportive work environment.

Know when to step in. CFOs don’t want to interject every time minor issues arise. Focus on conflicts that jeopardise a group’s output and that lower-level managers cannot settle.

Hire employees with excellent interpersonal skills who fit into the corporate culture. Great employees share a few qualities, including a can-do attitude, right-size ego, and a sense of humour. Periodically refresh your recruiting plan to ensure you’re attracting the right people.

Sabine Vollmer (Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.