Chances are, we’ve all encountered a coworker who butts heads with colleagues, has a different or distracting work style, or does not accept constructive feedback. It’s common for interpersonal issues to pop up in the workplace; in fact, conflict is perfectly normal and may not even be a bad thing. Rather than fear those workplace beefs, there are ways to embrace and learn from them.
The longer you wait to address issues with another employee at the office, the harder it is to fix. But conflict is worth settling because unresolved issues can lead to workplace unhappiness and a drop in productivity and creativity. It can also make collaboration and trust even harder to build as time goes on.
There are typically two main reasons for employee conflict. The first stems from communication or a lack thereof. Many times, conflict occurs when communication is misinterpreted (“I didn’t know you wanted me to do that”), when there is a lack of information (“I was unaware you needed this by Wednesday”), or when there’s no information at all (“I had no idea you were going on vacation for two weeks before this deadline”). Luckily, many tensions can be alleviated with better communication skills and by being more concise, clear, timely, and accurate.
The other big root of workplace tiffs is letting emotions, rather than rationale and data, drive decisions. How many times do you let an emotional reaction lead to an argument? It’s easy to feel threatened or get defensive, angry, and annoyed at work. But letting these emotions get the best of you will never lead to conflict resolution. Instead, try one or more of the strategies below.
Conflict is inevitable. Now what? Here are some great tips to put out the fire before it burns down the whole office.
Calm down, and then tackle the issue
If you find yourself in an argument, take a few minutes to create some space and clear your head. If you receive an email from a coworker that bothers you, don’t respond right away. Put the issue to the side until you’re able to look at it more objectively.
State your case thoughtfully
When it’s time to meet and talk it out, make sure you think through your words first. Be tactful instead of automatically playing the blame game. Realize that some people are more sensitive, so even if you tend to be straightforward and serious, it’s a good idea to be diplomatic.
Look at the problem, not the person
If you’re butting heads with a specific colleague, it’s easy to bring judgments into the picture. Do your best to stay focused on the situation and untie it from the person you have personality issues with.
Be forward thinking
View conflict as an opportunity to focus on the future and fixing the problem to avoid a recurrence, versus getting stuck in the past and getting into a “he said, she said” scenario. For instance, if there was a misunderstanding about delegating a project, identify where the issue went astray, and focus on how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Before jumping in with your own thoughts and concerns, give active listening a shot: Refrain from speaking and really take note of what the other person is saying about the conflict. Maybe your boss won’t allow you to hire someone you need on the team. Make a conscious effort to hear him or her out and think about the reasons why you weren’t given a budget for a hire, versus jumping directly to assumptions, like “My boss is so cheap and controlling and doesn’t understand what I need!”
Pick your battles
You’re not going to win every argument or feel 100 percent in agreement at work. Challenges are normal, and not everything is going to end on a high note and make you feel fully satisfied. That’s okay. Pick your battles. Work toward resolving the challenges that could have serious repercussions, including decreased productivity, poor performance, and work dissatisfaction.
Once you come to an agreement, acknowledge that you both (or all) worked through the discomfort to come out of the situation with more clarity and less stress. Grab lunch or an after-work drink to make amends and keep moving forward.
There’s no way around it: Workplace conflict happens. So rather than try to avoid it at all costs, use these tips to approach tension in a healthier way and make the relationship with your colleagues and your job as productive as possible.