Misunderstandings and communication problems remain one of the most common sources of workplace strife, and interpersonal difficulties are magnified when conflicting work styles coexist in one setting. While conflict is inevitable, it need not ruin your workday or cause unbearable stress. Try these conflict resolution tips to make your work environment a less stressful, more productive place:
- Be specific in formulating your complaints. “I’m never invited to meetings” is not as effective as “I believe I would have been able to contribute some ideas at last Thursday’s marketing meeting.”
- Resist the temptation to involve yourself in conflicts that do not directly involve you or your responsibilities. Even if someone has clearly been wronged, allow him or her to resolve the situation as he/she chooses.
- Try to depersonalize conflicts. Instead of a “me versus you” mentality, visualize an “us versus the problem” scenario. This is not only a more professional attitude, but it will also improve productivity and is in the best interests of the company.
- Be open and listen to another’s point of view and reflect back to the person as to what you think you heard. This important clarification skill leads to less misunderstanding, with the other person feeling heard and understood. Before explaining your own position, try to paraphrase and condense what the other is saying into one or two sentences. Start with, “So you’re saying that…” and see how much you really understand about your rival’s position. You may find that you’re on the same wavelength but having problems communicating your ideas.
- Own What’s Yours: Realize that personal responsibility is a strength, not a weakness. Effective communication involves admitting when you’re wrong. If you both share some responsibility in a conflict (which is usually the case), look for and admit to what’s yours. It diffuses the situation, sets a good example, and shows maturity. It also often inspires the other person to respond in kind, leading you both closer to mutual understanding and a solution.
- Use “I” Messages: Rather than saying things like, “You really messed up here,” begin statements with “I”, and make them about yourself and your feelings, like, “I feel frustrated when this happens.” It’s less accusatory, sparks less defensiveness, and helps the other person understand your point of view rather than feeling attacked.
- Look for Compromise Instead of trying to ‘win’ the argument, look for solutions that meet everybody’s needs. Either through compromise or a new solution that gives you both what you want most, this focus is much more effective than one person getting what they want at the other’s expense. Healthy communication involves finding a resolution that both sides can be happy with.
- Take a Time-Out: Sometimes tempers get heated and it’s just too difficult to continue a discussion without it becoming an argument or a fight. If you feel yourself or your partner starting to get too angry to be constructive, or showing some destructive communication patterns, it’s okay to take a break from the discussion until you both cool off. Sometimes good communication means knowing when to take a break.
- Don’t Give Up: While taking a break from the discussion is sometimes a good idea, always come back to it. If you both approach the situation with a constructive attitude, mutual respect, and a willingness to see the other’s point of view or at least find a solution, you can make progress toward the goal of a resolution to the conflict. Unless it’s time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communication.
- Ask For Help If You Need It: If one or both of you has trouble staying respectful during conflict, or if you’ve tried resolving conflict with your co-worker on your own and the situation just doesn’t seem to be improving, you might benefit from the help of a mediator or objective third person.
- Don’t always involve your superiors in conflict resolution. You’ll quickly make the impression that you are unable to resolve the smallest difficulties.
- If an extended discussion is necessary, agree first on a time and place to talk. Confronting a coworker who’s with a client or working on a deadline is unfair and unprofessional. Pick a time when you’re both free to concentrate on the problem and its resolution. Take it outside and away from the group of inquisitive coworkers if they’re not involved in the problem. Don’t try to hold negotiations when the office gossip can hear every word.
- Limit your complaints to those directly involved in the workplace conflict. Character assassination is unwarranted. Remember, you need to preserve a working relationship rather than a personal one, and your opinion of a coworker’s character is generally irrelevant. “He missed last week’s deadline” is OK; “he’s a total idiot” is not.
- Know when conflict isn’t just conflict. If conflict arises due to sexual, racial, or ethnic issues, or if someone behaves inappropriately, that’s not conflict, it’s harassment. Take action and discuss the problem with your supervisor or human resources department.
Take home point: It’s not all about you – You may think it’s a personal attack, but maybe your co-worker is just having a bad day. Take time to think BEFORE you speak in response to an insensitive remark. It may be that saying nothing is the best response.