6 Steps to Help You Overcome Conflict in the Workplace
- Guest Author
- December 10, 2016
- No responses
Avoiding conflict is a part of human nature, especially when it happens in your place of employment. For introverts especially, confrontation in the workplace is particularly agonizing. For most of us, self-included, initiating difficult conversations at work is a major pain point.
As much as we hate to admit it, due to the group dynamics of the workplace, office conflicts do happen in a variety of forms. While interpersonal conflicts may be “normal”, they also cost businesses money. According to a study by the publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument found that U.S. workers spend 2.8 hours a week on average dealing with conflict in the workplace, equating to “$359 billion in wasted wages” per year.
Of course, not all conflict is bad. In an ideal work setting, employees and coworkers are engaged, committed to the work they’re producing, and excited about the prospect of seeing tasks successfully completed. In these kinds of work environments, conflict can be a sign that people are passionate about their work and excited about their ideas.
By no means does this mean that conflict for the sake of a project is necessary or healthy, but the best kind of workplaces are the kind that handles difficult conflicts constructively. Here are a few tips employees and managers can use to effectively handle conflict in the workplace.
- Describe the Problem as You See It, in Neutral Terms
It’s important that when confronting a coworker or manager about workplace conflicts that you aim to describe the problem as objectively as possible. What is the problem you’re encountering? When is it occurring? What have you observed the other person doing, and how are you reacting as a response?
It’s important here that you don’t assume to know what the other person’s intentions or motivations are, but to simply stick to what is easily observable. It’s also important that you take note of their perspective and avoid bias as much as possible.
- Apologize for Your Role in the Conflict
Most of us aren’t completely guilt free when conflict arises at work. In order to fully resolve the situation at hand, it’s important that you voice the ways in which you’re responsible for contributing to conflict, or ways that you’ve helped sustain the conflict. This is not to say that you’re accepting responsibility for the conflict overall, rather, you’re simply acknowledging your role in the situation.
- Show Appreciation for the Other Party
Other than admitting your part in the conflict, this may be one of the harder steps to resolving conflict. It’s difficult to praise a person you disagree with, but people typically don’t respond well to conflict resolution when they feel as though they’re being put on the defense. Alexander Kjerulf of Positive Sharing suggests the following when showing appreciation for difficult coworkers.
“I know we don’t always see eye to eye and that we have very different personalities but I want you to know that I really appreciate your contribution to the project. Without you, we would never have gotten this far in the same time. Also the way you communicate with our clients and your ability to find out what they really want are second to none and a boost to the project.”
He also points out that this step is in many ways a litmus test to see if you are ready to resolve the conflict. If you are unable to think of a single redeeming quality about your coworker or manager, you may need to seek mediation to solve the issue.
- Discuss How the Conflict Affects Other Coworkers and Productivity at the Company
At this point in the conversation, it’s important that you highlight the consequences that the conflict is having not only for yourself but for the productivity of the company as a whole. Is the conflict making others feel anxious before meetings? Unable to share their ideas without fear of being judged? Is the project suffering as a whole?
By addressing some of these questions, it might make it easier for both parties involved to look at the project holistically, rather than their own disagreements.
- Determine a Positive Outcome for Each Party
It’s at this point in the process that each party can determine their desired outcome. Both parties ought to have a clear idea of what the solutions might be, even if the goals are lofty. It may be as simple as adopting a different communication style, or simply being more forthright when future conflicts arise.
- Determine Specific Actions that Can Be Put into Practice Immediately
Typically with workplace conflicts, there is an end goal and a short term goal. The end goal might be to become better communicators over time to avoid conflict in the future, but here you can determine a few goals which will help from day-to-day as you continue to work together on projects you’re assigned to together.
Conflict in today’s workplace is common, and can often be attributed to many passionate parties working toward a lofty goal using different methods. While some conflicts require mediation or intervention. Many conflicts can be resolved thoughtfully by both parties using a series of steps aimed at reaching clarity and prioritizing both individual’s needs.
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30-minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl
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