Until the day comes when robots have completely replaced us in the workplace, conflict at work will continue to rear its ugly head. It’s unavoidable and it’s always going to be present since there are so many different personalities all working together. It’s unappealing. But that doesn’t mean it’s uncontrollable. People deal with conflict in a variety of ways. Some people avoid it at all costs. Some people charge straight into it, face-first and unaware of the consequences after the battle. Avoiding the situation only turns it into a ticking time bomb, threatening to explode at any time. On the other hand, confronting people head-on may only compound matters. So how do you deal with conflict resolution in the workplace without ruffling everyone’s feathers?
I think it’s important to look at some of the causes of conflict in the workplace. These typical conflicts can be poor communication, personal differences and last, but not least, good old-fashioned competition.
Often conflict is started by one of three things: a lack of information, inaccurate information or simply no information at all. Even a little information in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing can turn ugly. Clear and concise communication is key to preventing and resolving office conflict.
Additionally, when it comes to communication, how something is said is as or even more important than what is being said. While easy and convenient, common forms of non-verbal communication such as email and texting lack the ability to convey tone with the message. Since there is no “sarcastic” font, it may be hard for the recipient of an email to understand the intent and tone of a message. Have a face-to-face meeting or phone call first and then use email to convey the relevant information afterwards. Important issues deserve more personal means of communication.
We value our individuality. It’s what makes us unique. Diversity makes us stronger but that also leads to conflict. We don’t always see eye-to-eye because we see the world through different lenses. We can be divided by our age, race, gender, political affiliations, favorite sports teams, religion and so much more.
To understand the root of conflict is to help resolve it. Why does the other person feel so strongly about their position? Understanding his or her position can help still the troubled waters. Simply acknowledging a difference exists can go a long way in easing tensions. Ask why they feel the way they do and you may be surprised by what you hear. Many times you may just be approaching the problem from different angles.
When employees are in a race to do the best work possible, people naturally become competitive. It’s what drives us to succeed and push ourselves harder than we’re comfortable with. A certain amount of competition is healthy and natural; too much is destructive. It’s hard to overcome work conflict caused by a competitive co-worker. When someone is willing to do “whatever it takes” to get ahead, conflict is bound to follow.
In most cases, simply showing the other person that you’re on their side might be enough. Show them that you care about their success and their goals, and help them understand that the company is stronger when everyone works together as a team. Show that you’re not competitors, but colleagues. A football team only succeeds when all 11 players on the field are working together as a single team. They’re all wearing the same uniform. Only by acting as one – and not 11 individuals doing their own thing – can the team actually win. (The only exception is the NFL Pro Bowl, and that game is generally terrible.)
Unfortunately, the rare competitive colleague comes along who can’t be reasoned with. With this rare bird, the only thing to do is wait it out. These people will be found out for what they are and the “Locker Room Poison” will eventually be removed from the equation for the betterment of the team.
I think the best philosophy with conflict resolution is trying to recognize the warning signs early on. However, if conflict does land in front of you, you have to stop it in its tracks. Staying calm and not getting upset is a very powerful way to not further escalate conflict. We can’t control other’s attitudes and insults but we can control what we say and how we react.
When it’s finally our chance to speak, the goal must be to find a way to diffuse anger and get to a place of sincere and truthful communication. We have to try to hold ourselves accountable for any wrong doing on our part and apologize if necessary. By starting off with holding yourself accountable, it sends a strong message of wanting to get along. Furthermore, empathizing with a person and acknowledging their challenges and frustrations is a good way to find a middle ground. And finally, focusing on the problem instead of finding fault in each other is the best way to move everyone along to focus on what’s really important – our work.
Once conflict rears its ugly head, it can be very damaging. It affects not only those directly involved, but those around it as well, like the blast radius of a bomb. It’s physically and emotionally draining. It can poison the morale of all those affected. Suddenly a once-effective team is now just a collection of co-workers who just happen to be in the same place. Conflict destroys productivity and also can cause people to leave because of an unhealthy work environment. We all have to try our best to control our tempers and be more empathetic and understanding to corral conflict in the workplace.
What’s the worst conflict in the workplace that you’ve encountered? How did you deal with it, even if you were on the sidelines?
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