Workplace conflict: High performers acting out or misunderstood?

While workplace conflict is increasing, the solution could lie in understanding and nurturing the unique strengths and needs of high-performing employees, says Simone Ellen Keller.

A more polarised society and shifts in personal and work values, much of it triggered by the COVID pandemic, are finding their way into the workplace, with reports worldwide of a sharp increase in workplace conflicts, including how staff engage with each other and with the organisation–a situation exacerbated by the disconnect between the working styles of high performers and your so-called typical workers.

Recent research highlighted a concerning trend: over a third (36%) of individuals reported dealing with workplace conflict often, very often, or consistently – a significant rise from the previous 29%.

Simone Ellen Keller (pictured), a personal transformation strategist and founder of Genius You, says that if you delve into research literature, most of it revolves around managing workplace conflict rather than understanding its root cause – the big disconnect is often put down to poor communication. However, it’s not poor communication that is the issue, rather how we communicate with diverse groups in an organisation, she says.

“Companies risk losing invaluable assets or enduring consistent disruption when they fail to acknowledge and nurture their high-performing employees. Workplace clashes and corporate politics stem from high performers, who naturally veer from conformity. Instead of being recognised as a strength, this nonconformity becomes a point of contention. The real problem is not the high performer’s nonconformity but the workplace’s inability to properly utilise and communicate with these individuals.”

Highlighting the importance of this dynamic, Keller says every workplace needs high performers, but when they’re not catered to properly, they can become ‘difficult’.

“It is a two-way street in terms of how employers and high performers need each other. It’s vital for employers to truly understand high performers, especially when they seem off their game. This understanding is the foundation to unlocking their potential,” she says.

Delineating the traits of high performers, Ellen Keller lists:

1.         High desire

2.         Powerful motor

3.         Unique perspective

4.         High comprehension level

5.         Obsessive focus

6.         Intense emotions

7.         Different reward centres

“These traits, often misconstrued as challenges, are the very strengths that can propel a company forward,” she says. “It’s essential to understand that high performers aren’t inherently difficult; they’re different. Both employers and the high performers themselves need to recognise this.”

Keller says typical workplaces are generally designed for the majority, not high performers. While the majority may seek stability and consistency, high performers thrive on excitement, challenges, and opportunities to showcase their skills.

“They yearn for support, encouragement, and recognition.”


Strategies for employers

To bridge this gap and foster a harmonious working environment, Keller offers three key strategies for employers:

1. Recognise the traits of high performers

Understand and identify the characteristics of high performers to provide them with an environment where they can thrive.

2. Upskill Management

Train leadership and management to understand and get the best out of high-performing individuals.

3. Harness and Recognise

Rather than attempting to confine their abilities, channel their energy productively and consistently acknowledge their contributions.

Keller says that while workplace conflict may be on the rise, the solution may well lie in understanding, recognising, and nurturing the unique strengths and needs of high-performing employees.


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