Conflict 101: Three Tips for Resolving Office Conflicts

Picture of Workplace Conflict

Give him a chance. Who knows, maybe he’s not as wrong as you think.

There is an old adage that goes something like, “the only things certain in life are death and taxes”. While Benjamin Franklin was likely being facetious when he said that, there is an underlying truth to his message that there exist things that are unavoidable. That being said, I’d like to propose that conflict be added to this list.

One need only glance in the annals of history to see that conflict has plagued humanity since, well, forever and has defined virtually every aspect of our modern society. Conflicts come in many different forms, can occur between anyone (including but not limited to friends, enemies, family, co-workers, etc.), and be about virtually anything (politics, religion, who made the last pot of coffee).

There are few things that can be more devastating to a business’ productivity and workplace satisfaction than interpersonal conflicts between our peers, superiors, and even our subordinates. Fortunately, the fundamentals of conflict resolution still apply regardless of the individuals involved, their relationship, the nature of the conflict/dispute/argument. Here are three simple tips to help you resolve workplace conflicts or stop them in their tracks:

1) Don’t Take It Personally- It’s natural for us to take any criticism from others personally and react defensively in an attempt to defend our work and our pride. Avoid doing this at all costs as this can easily escalate conflicts or lead to future ones. This is especially true if you feel that the one offering criticism is over stepping their jurisdiction and not in a position to offer said criticism or is just plain wrong. Rather than get upset and defensive one should calmly reiterate the expectations and objective of the work in question, and explain how you believe your work or actions have contributed to accomplishing this task. Odds are that the one offering criticism isn’t trying to offend you so you should not take it that way.

Do: React calmly, compare expectations and goals, accept constructive criticism

Don’t: Raise your voice, ignore recommendations, call each other names (tempting though it may be)

2) Focus- We have a natural tendency to drift from the original argument or inquiry either prolonging or escalating a conflict. One thing can easily lead to another and what started as a simple debate between the merits of having the office post-its be one colour or another has suddenly turned into questioning each others ability to make important business decisions (it happens for often that you’d think). While one’s inability to make a business decision can be an important issue to address, though it may not actually be the case, you’re no closer to resolving the initial all-important crisis of which colour the post-its should be (green, no contest). Not only is drifting unproductive, it causes more problems that may not actually exist (see above).

Do: Stay on track, ask good questions, be willing to admit you’re wrong

Don’t: Create problems, be unreasonable, bring their mother into it

3) Be Clear- Ambiguity is the archenemy of conflict resolution. How can you possibly be expected to resolve a conflict if nobody involved fully understands what the problem is about or how it came to be. Using the proper language will help you articulate exactly what the problem is and bring you that much closer to resolving it. That’s it, I’d hate to fail to follow my own advice and go any longer.

Do: Think about what you’re trying to say, say it, use small words if you have to

Don’t: Over complicate the issue, be ambiguous,

Conflicts in the work place can make work all but unbearable. Hopefully with these few tips you’ll be able to avoid them all together. Maybe we can’t all get along, but we can try, no?
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One response to “Conflict 101: Three Tips for Resolving Office Conflicts

  1. Sorry for getting to this abit late. ..
    The 3 pointers on conflict resolution are simple to understand, yet many people find so hard to follow.
    More precisely, tip # 1 “Don’t Take It Personally” is easier said than done of course. I’ve definitely been guilty of it. For the most part I think people (not everyone) can take construction criticism, some may even welcome it, but it’s the feeling that one hasn’t pleased their audience in the way they thought they would that has them take the feedback negatively. It’s that feeling of disappointment in oneself vs. the ‘you’re wrong’ attitude that gets people worked up. People are hard on themselves, some may need to be more while others less. Of course there are those that only see black and white ‘You’re wrong and I’m right’- type. If they don’t hear what they want to hear, then a big conflict ensues. I’d say not the best business partners to team up with. Like you said, react calmly and compare expectations. I have no idea what it’s like to start up a company, but I imagine the guy on the right wants to see it launch and be successful every bit as the guy on the left. I compare it to starting a family, not that I know what that’s like either. .. you’re bound to butt heads, but you find ways to reconcile and grow and do what’s best for the company/baby. Be glad it’s just ‘business’ though and not a feuding family. Leave the emotions out of it!
    P.s You highlighted a good point – don’t bring everyone and their mother into it. lol

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