Have you ever just sat back and waited for an issue to resolve itself? Whether it’s a problem with a friend, a family member, or a co-worker, we’re often tempted to throw logic aside and sit quietly as the problems flutter about over our heads. We may swat at them or duck as they fly past, but we’re not inclined to get up and address them.
We’re all guilty, but let’s get this straight: Taking that approach is a mistake. Resolving conflict is primarily about embracing conflict. Acting like there’s no problem doesn’t bring anyone closer to a solution. It’s important to address the issue directly, instead of trying to find the perfect response by suppressing your true feelings. Honesty is what propels the discussion to a resolution.
We know that handling conflict in the workplace is a business—there’s a reason they have entire departments dedicated to managing people. Luckily, after thousands of years of personality clashes and disputes over staplers, we’ve developed suitable approaches to handling conflict in the workplace. If you’re tired of avoiding Bill every time you need to stretch your legs, read on.
Please note that these are tips to follow when you’re experiencing interpersonal conflict—clashing personalities, different work styles, incompatible planning habits, etc. If you’re experiencing something that you think may be harassment or mistreatment, please speak to a superior or a member of the HR department as soon as possible.
Causes of Workplace Conflict
The biggest driver of workplace conflict is poor communication. Misunderstanding or inaccurately interpreting an event can aggravate an issue and make it that much harder to resolve. Another key aspect of poor communication: Personality differences, which cause people to have different sensitivity thresholds and to express emotion differently, or not at all. For example, someone who is straightforward and frank with their opinions can come across as callous to someone who’s very reserved. Self-awareness plays a major role in navigating personality differences—be aware of how others respond to you, and make adjustments when appropriate to guide everyone to a harmonious outcome.
How to Resolve Conflicts at Work
Here are five steps you can take to handle conflict with your coworkers, restore peace, and become a veritable workplace Oprah.
Define acceptable behavior.
Defining right and wrong in the workplace will establish a culture that values mutual respect and courteousness. Creating an environment where acceptable behaviors are clearly outlined, developing a framework for effective decision-making, encouraging team-building, and strong leadership are all positive steps to take toward a more agreeable workplace.
Part of a properly functioning workplace is defining job descriptions and having a clear chain of command, so people know who to come to with day-to-day problems. Chaos feeds conflict, so keeping the workplace running smoothly with proven communication strategies and capable leadership will be incredibly beneficial in avoiding conflicts entirely.
At this point, you may be shaking your head and saying, “This isn’t going to fix things with Bill.” You’re right; it probably won’t—this first step is mainly a preventative measure, meant to reduce the likelihood of future conflicts arising. If you’re in a supervisory role, setting clear expectations and guidelines for members of your team will benefit everyone. If you aren’t, consider speaking with your boss or HR about laying down some ground rules.
Communicate in person.
Technology has enormous effects on interpersonal relationships, and despite its handiness, it often leads to misunderstandings due to different communication styles. Sometimes all the smiley faces in the world won’t soften the blow of a reprimand from a superior. Communicating face-to-face adds a level of personal connection that often gets lost in translation through online messaging tools.
Visual, emotional cues make a big difference in knowing how to resolve conflicts at work. It’s much harder to get a read on somebody’s emotions if they aren’t in the room with you. Sitting down face-to-face to talk about your conflict enables you and Bill to help better understand each other. Plus, taking the time to meet shows that you’re serious about finding a resolution.
Don’t think of the other person as an opponent.
Viewing the person on the other side of the conflict as your adversary prolongs the conflict and undermines the possibility of a mutually beneficial outcome. On the other hand, working together to identify the root cause of your conflict will help you find common ground and better relate to each other.
You may be tempted to point out all of Bill’s flaws before looking at your own failings. Instead, look inward—this will help you identify the beginnings of the conflict without worsening matters by playing the blame game. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict, and remember that your goal is to find a resolution, not to yell at Bill for the afternoon.
Identify your emotions.
Never attempt conflict resolution on the heels of a heated disagreement. It’s much easier to see the situation with clarity after you remove yourself from a fierce debate and reflection.
Look for evidence of decisions that Bill made that caused you to feel disappointed or upset. Having something tangible to trace your emotions to can help you communicate where it all went wrong. Often, your frustrations have less to do with the person and much more to do with the circumstances surrounding the conflict, whether that’s a failure to communicate, mismanagement of a project, etc.
Legitimize their feelings.
Don’t dismiss what Bill has to say. That will do serious damage to your relationship and make it more difficult to resolve issues in the future. Listen to his concerns and show that you’re listening by maintaining eye contact and acknowledging his feelings as he speaks. An occasional head nod and an, “I understand why you feel this way,” will show that you respect him. If he makes good points, listen to them—you’re here to solve a problem, not win an argument. Your willingness to listen and reflect may prompt your counterpart to do the same.
With these five steps, you’ll be able to express your feelings to Bill in a way that’s calm, respectful, and honest. Whether or not they’ll return the favor is ultimately up to them, but you’ll be able to hold your head high, either way knowing you handled the issue like a professional.