Have you ever had to work with someone with whom you disagree? If not, congratulations! However, know the day is coming. Work is a tough place to experience interpersonal conflict. You know you have to maintain a professional working relationship with others and more than likely, you also depend on others to get your job done.
Conflicts at work can destroy your credibility, perceived integrity, and self-esteem but luckily, they don’t have to.
Whether you’re a newbie to the organization, someone with seniority, or an experienced leader, conflicts arise for all sorts of reasons. You might disagree with leadership decisions. You and another co-worker might disagree over the best way to approach workflow. People on your team may address challenges from different perspectives creating a lack of cohesion and resistance to work together. Departments might have conflicting priorities that impact your ability to complete your goals, hence creating conflict.
Whatever the conflict is, it’s important to take action to resolve the issue. Addressing differences will not only protect yourself and your reputation, but it will also build conflict resolution skills that can be utilized in the future.
Try these strategies to better understand and address work conflicts and help get everyone back on a positive track:
1. Active listening. One of the main keys to conflict resolution at work, or in any setting for that matter, is the principle of active listening. While you may nod in agreement as if you’ve heard it all before, take time to think about what the phrase “active listening” really means.
Active listening itself is a skill that requires time, patience, and repeated practice. You must give the other side ample time to speak their mind and tell their side of the story, or defend themselves, while personally remaining open to their perspective.
Active listening involves not just hearing the words they speak but taking a few seconds to consider what they mean. A good way to ensure that you’ve heard what someone else is saying is by repeating it back to them in your own words.
For example, you can do this by saying, “To clarify, you said…” or even, “Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I heard you say…” and then continue to rephrase in your own words what they said. Don’t simply repeat their words, rephrase and show you understand!
2. Consider the Timing. When emotions flare in the heat of the moment, this may not be the opportune time to address conflict. Instead, ensure that you’re being respectful by asking the other person about a good or appropriate time to discuss the issue.
In addition to considering their time, it’s also important to be respectful of their feelings. Anytime you address a challenge or disagreement you have with another person, having the option of a “timeout” can be used. If the situation or discussion gets too emotional, it might be best to take a break.
A formal timeout gives both people the right to walk away - and come back at a later time - if they feel so heated that they cannot continue the conversation.
3. Pick your battles. Before you engage in conflict resolution with an employee, coworker, or boss at work, consider the importance of the issue at hand. Some conflicts aren’t worth your time and effort to resolve. Others, however, are important to address because they impact your reputation, the ability to do your job, or some other personal value.
A good rule of thumb to follow when deciding whether or not to resolve conflict involves regret. Ask yourself: “Will I regret this later if I do nothing about the situation?” Alternatively, ask “Will this issue matter one month or one year from now?”
If the answer is “no” to either of those questions, then you may want to just let it go.
When it comes to addressing disagreements at work, the way you address it with the other person is critical. Body language, tone of voice, the words you use, and attitude all factor into whether or not you’ll be successful.
Some conflicts are more difficult than others to resolve. Even if you’re not able to come to a resolution, you know you’ve at least attempted to go about things in a thoughtful, appropriate manner.