6 ways to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict at work is inevitable. And the worst thing you can do is ignore it.

For starters, let’s clarify that conflict is not always a bad thing. We are humans, not machines, therefore there will always be opposing positions, competitive tensions, personality clashes, and simply bad days leading to conflict at work.

On average, an employee spends 2.1 hours every week – approximately one day a month – dealing with conflict in some way.

It’s important to understand that there are two types of conflict:

  • Healthy conflict does not affect morale and often leads to innovative solutions.  Most people don’t even view it as a conflict, but that’s exactly what it is. Opposing views, brainstorming sessions, and strategic discussions are just different forms of healthy conflict.
  • Negative conflict.  This is something that affects employee performance, morale and productivity in the long run.  And guess what, healthy conflict can easily turn into negative if managed poorly.

There will always be someone you don’t agree with, and that’s fine.  Ever rolled your eyes listening to someone speak? That’s one of the first signs of an unresolved conflict.

Stop avoiding it. It’s not going to go away.

Conflict almost never resolves itself. In fact, it normally escalates pretty quickly. Don’t shy away from it. The sooner you act, the easier it is to resolve it. Here’s how.

1. It’s not about who’s right, it’s about what’s right.

We all want to be right. It’s very natural to advocate for your own opinion just because it’s yours. No matter how much time you spend defending it,  your solution to a problem may not be the most efficient one.

Winning an argument doesn’t mean proving an opponent wrong, but rather finding a common ground, a resolution. Remember, it’s not you against the other person, it’s both of you against the problem.

2. Set a clear goal. 

Keep your communication goal-oriented.

Before you engage, take a step back. Set a clear goal you are trying to achieve. Keeping  the conversation goal-oriented can help you set emotions aside and focus on what’s important.

How exactly do you resolve conflict? Set clear goals and assign actions. For example:

  1. Gather data – Listening
  2. Analyze the problem – Understanding
  3. Offer a resolution – Talking

Setting an end goal is a great way to approach an ongoing conflict. Treat it as a business case, not as a personal issue.

3. Meet Face To Face

Why talk about it when you can exchange passive-aggressive emails for weeks?

Dealing with conflict in person can be scary, but it’s an extremely important part of your conflict resolution strategy.

There are many ways to communicate, but emails and slack messages can be easily misinterpreted.  Improve your negotiation and conflict resolution skills by approaching the problem, not avoiding it. 

Miscommunication is one of the main causes of workplace conflict, and it can be easily avoided with a simple meeting or a phone call.

4. Stick to the Facts

It’s crucial to stick to the facts and ensure that no personal feelings or agendas enter into the equation. What are the facts of the situation? Try as best you can to capture the situation as a video camera would have recorded it. Ask your opponent(s) to fact check. See if you agree on what actually happened first. 

It just got personal. 

If you agreed on facts and the only problem is the attitude, it’s time to address your emotions. Avoid the infamous “you said” at all costs. We often remember how we felt about what was being said, but not the actual message.  Try using language like “I felt” instead of “you said”. It removes any aspect of blame from the conversation, and does not guess at the other party’s intentions.  

5. Prevent future conflicts

It’s not impossible to turn a heated argument into a valuable lesson. See if you can look at conflict as an opportunity for positive change and improvement. What can you learn? How can you and your team benefit from the issues raised? 

What would you do differently next time?

Maybe it’s time to adjust your communication style, management system or simply be more transparent about your intentions. Little things matter. Maybe all you needed was a day off? A different way to approach a complicated topic?  

Dealing with conflict also builds a healthy relationship between you and conflict, itself.  It’s an important soft skill to have, and it’s worth working on.

6. Let it go

Sometimes it’s impossible to change the outcome of the conflict, but you can still change your attitude towards it. Some people and subjects are simply not worth wasting your energy on.

Own your mistakes. Don’t just say sorry to be polite, apologize when really you mean it. Accountability is an important soft skill and it may dramatically change your relationship with colleagues and contribute to a  healthier work environment.

In a nutshell: let go of things you can’t change and find the best way to talk about issues that bother you.

 

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