Conflicts with coworkers can be one of the most difficult sources of workplace stress. There is a way to reduce that tension and the negative toll that these conflicts can have on your job satisfaction and efficiency however. Understanding the nature of the conflict and learning a few simple conflict-resolution skills can be really helpful in making your work environment a more productive place.
Typically, we respond to conflict in very unproductive ways. Sometimes our responses can even be destructive. You might deny the conflict, change the subject, make excuses, put the situation off onto someone else or find someone blame. Even worse, you might react emotionally and become aggressive, abusive, hysterical or just downright scary. Learning the right way to manage conflict is very important. The skills involved in managing conflict are learned behaviors, but it is a set of skills that anyone can learn.
Avoid conflict by knowing what not to do. There are a few common office practices that can really get you in to trouble and should be avoided. Don’t gossip, because it has a way of getting back to the person you targeted. Give credit when credit is due. Omitting credit will almost always result in a negative reaction. Don’t act disrespectfully or rude towards coworkers. Make an effort to be kind and offer your thanks when it’s warranted. And don’t point out minor faults in a person’s work, approach, style or voice. This will only make them angry or defensive. Try to keep your criticisms constructive if you absolutely have to say something. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Figure out why everyone’s upset. You want to bring all of the issues out in to the open. In order to resolve a workplace conflict you have to understand what the real problem is. Don’t withdraw or use other defense mechanisms that prevent the resolution of the bigger issues at play. Focus on the problem you’re faced with, along with the actions and consequences. You want to address the issues head-on before they become even bigger problems.
Think before you act. Always think about things before reacting to a confrontational coworker. Did you do something to provoke this confrontation? Is the answer is yes, stop it, acknowledge you were wrong, and make sure that the other person understands what your intentions were.
Choose your battles. Ask yourself how important this problem really is. Does it really affect you or is it something that has nothing to do with you? Is it an ongoing problem or a one-time incident? If this is a one-time incident or only a mild offense then let it pass without making a fuss.
Look for the “win-win” scenario. When you are involved in a workplace conflict, don’t go into it thinking you are going to win this fight. The outcome should satisfy everyone involved. Approach this situation as someone who wants to preserve this relationship.
Communication is key! Use nonthreatening language and “I-statements” instead of “you” statements. Avoid making judgmental remarks and generalizations. Be specific and present the facts instead. Use calm neutral language to describe what is upsetting you. For example you could say, “I get very frustrated when … because …” Remain respectful and sincere and avoid sarcasm. Never attack or put the other person on the defensive.
Become an active listener. Active listening is a valuable skill that enables you to demonstrate that you truly understand what another person is saying. With active listening you restate, in your own words, what the other person has said to you. You should name the feeling that the other person is conveying and state the reason they are feeling that way. Being an active listener is a way for you to check if your understanding is correct. It feels good when someone makes an effort to understand you. Active listening also shows that you are paying attention and interested in the other person’s concerns. This technique seems to have a calming effect in emotional situations and will help you to resolve the conflict in a more productive way. Remember, you don’t have to agree with what is being said. You are just simply acknowledging the other person’s point of view.
Watch your body language. You don’t want to display defensive or hostile body language. This includes rolling your eyes, crossing your arms in front of your body, and tapping your foot. This won’t help you to resolve the underlying issues.
Remain professional and calm. Disputes are going to happen if you don’t get along with a coworker. If you are confronted by that coworker, try to remain calm and unemotional. Remember that two wrongs do not make a right. Don’t start pointing fingers or try to mimic the other person’s behavior. Just let them say whatever it is they came to say, ask questions to get to the root of the problem and let this coworker know you want to work together to make things right. It is always important to remain rational in these types of situations.
Use humor to diffuse the situation. Humor can make a tense situation blow over sometimes. Point out something funny about the situation. Never use self-deprecation or sarcasm as a form of humor however. You might mean it as a joke but these comments can come across as rude to someone else.
Take some time to cool down. Sometimes you need to take a time-out in these highly emotional situations. Stepping away from the situation for a moment will reel your emotions back in and allow you to see things more clearly. After you’ve calmed down you can decide what you want to do about this conflict, if anything.
Work as a team. Effective teamwork is important for any business. If you are working on a team project with your worst enemy, use it as an opportunity to come together and get the job done. You might be able to get rid of all of that animosity if you share a positive work experience with this person. Understand that there are many personality types out there and you won’t get along with everyone. Strive to work with all of these personality types. You don’t have to like them or take them out to lunch, but you do have to work with them. Make the best out of this situation so you can all do your jobs.
Don’t be a tattle-tale. If your coworker messes up, don’t go running to your boss with the news. You should go through the proper chain of command and discuss the problem with your coworker first. Talk to the person in a private setting instead of going to upper management. Doing this will avoid creating any unwanted, tense work relationships.
Keep the conflict between you and the other person involved. Don’t complain to other coworkers about your issues with this other person. This is none of their business, and your conflict should not become an office wide event.
Write the right way. Watch your tone in emails and other written communications. These documents can often be taken the wrong way. Make certain that your tone comes across clearly. Avoid sarcasm, writing in all capitals, or using excessive exclamation points (interpreted as screaming in an email). Avoid cross email exchanges with coworkers that you don’t get along with. Talk with them face to face so you can both resolve your issues in a more productive manner.
Get outside help as a last resort. Most companies have policies and procedures for handling employee conflicts. If you can’t work it out, go to your boss and see what they can do to get the issue resolved. Sometimes a mediator may be necessary to diffuse these heated work conflicts. Go to human resources if need be. Experienced human resource advisors are trained to help resolve these types of conflicts. Let them do their job if you can’t do it on your own. Sometimes an impartial third party can get to the root of the problem.
Don’t hold a grudge when it’s all over. This is very important if you want to have a pleasant work environment. You’re not expected to be best friends, but you should be civil. Say hello and smile. What point is there in being mean and dismissive? The office should not be a tense or stressful place. Just get over it and move on. You’ll be much happier in the long run.
Conflict is a natural part of life. You have probably been a part of some type of conflict before today and will more than likely find yourself in a similar situation in the future. What’s important is that you know what to do when that time comes. With these conflict management strategies you will be prepared when the situation arises.