Conflict in the world of accountancy is thankfully rare.
But in all walks of life it’s inevitable that we’ll encounter a challenge to our own way of thinking from time to time. Within reason, it’s even healthy to experience some low level conflict within the accountancy workplace. But for some of us dealing with conflict, whether we’re senior leaders and hiring managers or employed accountants, can be a major source of stress.
If that’s you, or if you’re managing accountants who need support in this area we’re on hand to offer some useful advice.
Here’s our top 5 tips for managing conflict in accountancy firms.
1. Acknowledge the difference of opinion.
A basic differing of opinions can often spiral into unnecessary conflict because the parties involved leave it too late to accept that there is a problem and in many cases become too angry/stressed/frustrated to find a satisfactory outcome in a professional way. If you find yourself in a situation where you and a colleague, employee or manager have a fundamental difference in opinion that needs to be resolved in order for work to progress, say just that out loud. Here’s an example:
‘Sarah I can see that our opinions on how best to manage this are at opposite ends of the spectrum so I think it’s important that we both get the chance to talk about why we feel the way we do? Hopefully we can work together to find the right solution for everyone or maybe even bring in someone else to get their thoughts on the issue?’
Right from the off you’re dealing with the situation diplomatically and professionally and this will either lead you to a mutually agreeable outcome or at least set the tone for debating the issue further but in the right way.
2. Your colleagues may be your friends. But in the office professionalism must come first.
We know how hard it can be if you’re involved in any kind of HR or conduct dispute with someone that you get along with on a personal level. So from the moment you start a new job in accountancy be cautious to maintain a high level of professionalism whenever you’re at work. And outside of the office try not to talk shop with colleagues who are friends. Office (be it physical or virtual) gossip can get out of hand so make sure you’re not a spreader of it. If you’re a manager in an accountancy firm do your best not to speak badly about your subordinates to those on the same level on the practice hierarchy.
3. Take a good look at the root cause and the consequences of all possible outcomes.
Consider the answer to questions such as what triggered the conflict? What are you not getting that you want and what will you lose if the outcome isn’t the one you’re hoping for? What longterm effects will digging your heels in have and are they worth it?
4. Focus on the problem, not the person.
Conflict is often necessary to make progress but nine times out of ten it’s a process, action or decision that you will be arguing over. Whenever and wherever you can try to separate your feelings towards the person you are communicating that conflict with and the actual problem itself. This should ensure that once the conflict is resolved you can still maintain a healthy working relationship with that person.
5. Know when to call it a day.
If you get to the point where you feel communication has broken down and is no longer constructive, make the decision to step away or to ask the employee to step away. That might mean accepting someone else’s proposed way of doing something (make sure your counter proposal was minuted in case it all goes wrong) or it might mean lodging a complaint or grievance at a higher level within the firm so that the issue can be investigated in line with correct procedures. If you feel the incident makes your status (or the status of the person you manage) at work untenable then consider requesting or offering a settlement agreement or if you’re a hiring manager and it’s in line with company policy; dismissal.
If conflict has led to you leaving your post in accountancy and you’re ready to find a more relaxed working environment to work in, contact us without delay as we’ll certainly be able to help. We have a range of accountancy opportunities to suit all levels and locations or you might consider the very many benefits to an interim accountancy post as you take some time to decide on the next steps you want to take professionally. You’ll also no doubt be particularly interested to read our Stress Free Guide to Securing a New Job in Accountancy.
And if you’re a senior leader in an accountancy firm who needs support in creating a conflict free team or filling vacancies created by dismissal or resignation, you can trust the experts to find you the right accountants to perfectly compliment your firm’s culture.