Put in place an early warning system in the work environment. It will do much to stop damaging and destructive conflicts soaking up valuable time and money, advises Petra Cook

Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer’s now infamous altercation at St James’ Park served to emphasise the frustrations many individuals in retail outlets across the UK feel on a day-to-day basis.
There is a mantra that the customer is always right and no matter what the provocation, the professional response must be to maintain a calmness and refuse to rise to any bait.
Both Newcastle United footballers have been heavily criticised for their actions - and rightly so - because they fought in front of 50,000 spectators in a match later broadcast in a prime television slot.
But it begs the question - just because you are not working in front of television cameras, have you got more right to lose your temper when projects and people do not work according to your own plans?
The simple answer is, of course not. Conflict in the work environment is damaging and destructive, both for team members and for overall project goals.
Ultimately, unresolved or undercurrent conflicts will cost valuable time and money.
By taking some basic steps, however, you can avoid problems before they have an impact on morale or, worse, customer retention. Remember, most people are motivated by a comfortable working environment, job satisfaction, the ability to succeed at work - or a combination of all three.
The first step towards meeting these motivations lies in being able to spot problems quickly. It sounds simple, but in the same way that some TV advertisements for retailers or consumer products have a subtle quality, conflicts can be covert.
Frustration builds up because the victim often feels no-one else is aware of their concerns.
So, monitoring the climate at work can give you an early warning system, making it easier to deal with issues before they get out of hand. You do not have to be continuously on your guard - it just means keeping your eyes open.
Take time to consider the cause. Too often, teams are frustrated because they demand to fix the problem now when it is clear that research needs to be done in order to find the right message delivery option.
In the same way, it is important to speak to colleagues and obtain each perspective before jumping to a conclusion. Otherwise, you may create future resentment.
Work out a resolution based on your discoveries and stay composed when talking. It may be necessary to take a break before people are calm enough to discuss their issues rationally. Also, do not rush colleagues for answers; people are always more open if they believe you are receptive and interested.
The most important aspect of handling a potentially explosive situation is to find an acceptable way forward for all parties. Sacking Bowyer and Dyer would have meant writing millions off Newcastle United’s balance sheet and ruined their careers - a result that, obviously, would have no winners.
So, in this case, the manager has imposed a fine, spelt out his expectations for the future, warned the players as to their future conduct and allowed them one more chance. In the same way, always ask yourself whether a compromise, giving both parties the chance to move forward, is possible.
And, ultimately, do not dwell on the subject.
Once the problem is solved, move on, because if you do not, the chances are you will only undermine any breakthroughs that you have made.
n Petra Cook is head of public affairs at the Chartered Management Institute