Seven steps for dealing with conflict
We all spend most of our weeks at work, so a good relationship with colleagues is pretty important. However, it’s likely that at some point in your career, you’ll be working with someone who you just don’t get on with. After all, workplaces are full of people from different backgrounds, viewpoints and ways of working. Every now and then, a conflict may arise with a colleague.
But rather than letting the problem fester, it’s important to deal with it. Unresolved conflict can be a big problem, both for the individuals and the people around them. It can affect both the wellbeing and performance levels of the individuals involved, and their wider teams may see reduced cooperation and collaboration. At a business level, this leads to a loss of productivity.
These are just some of the reasons you need to deal with any workplace conflicts you might have. If you’re wondering how to do this, we’ll talk you through some of the key steps and actions below. Read on!
Establish the source of the conflict
Working out how the conflict has arisen in the first place will help you understand the issue. If you know what the causes are, this could make things easier to tolerate or at least help you be more accommodating.
This means understanding the other person’s motivations and looking at things from their perspective. Do they work in a different department, or have different business objectives? This could be a reason for differences in opinion.
Alternatively, is it a clash of working styles? For example, there could be a potential for conflict between someone that likes to work really methodically and somebody else who’s more of a risk taker. Similarly, different teams have their own ways of managing workload – sometimes when people from these teams are working together, there could be a clash around this.
It’s equally important to look at yourself. Do others see you as you see yourself? Look at your own behaviour and whether there are things you can do differently.
If the conflict is particularly serious – for example, discrimination – then you should get your manager and HR involved. But if it’s the type of thing we referenced earlier, it’s good to sort this out between yourselves, to begin with.
Have an honest discussion – focused on actions
Arrange to speak to the other person in private. Be open about how you feel while keeping your manner polite and professional. Focus on actions – not personalities. This means saying things like “when this happens”, rather than “when you do”. This keeps the focus on the specific situations and stops it from looking like you’re generalising about the person.
When talking about how a situation makes you feel, again emphasise the situation rather than the individual. It’s easy to say something like “I’m angry at you because..” – but a better and more accurate phrase would be “When this happens, I feel angry”.
Practice active listening
There are two sides to every conflict, so make sure you listen to the other person as well. Pay full attention rather than getting ready to react or mentally preparing your answer. Active listening is a very useful technique here. This is when you wait for a person to finish speaking and then repeat or rephrase what was said to make sure you understand it. Not only does this show them that you’re fully listening, but it also allows you to detect any signs of emotion from them which might be important.
Phrase questions as enquiries, not accusations
Don’t assume that someone’s deliberately gone out to annoy or harm you. Sometimes they may not have realised what has gone on. If they have done something that’s caused an issue for you, ask them why – but do so in a curious way, rather than as an accusation. This stops the situation from escalating.
In a similar vein, if your colleague says something that you find hurtful – take a breath and think before responding. While saying something hurtful back can be a natural impulse, this won’t improve the situation.
It’s crucial that you don’t make the conversation all about you. Give the other person plenty of time to tell you their thoughts, feelings and perspective. We mentioned earlier how you should think about their point of view when establishing the source of the conflict. Well, at this stage of the process they’re literally telling you their point of view, so treat it with empathy. You wouldn’t like it if they dismissed what you were telling them, so show them respect. Put yourself in their shoes, and if there’s anything you can understand – for example why they did something – tell them. They’ll appreciate your honesty and compassion.
Agree on common ground
Once you’ve listened to the other person, work out which of their points you agree and disagree with. Then see which of your points they agree and disagree with. Keep talking until you eventually come to an agreement on the areas of conflict. If there’s something you believe you need to apologise for, then go ahead and do it then rather than waiting until later.
This will help you put together a plan of action, prioritising the most important parts of the conflict. Just as key is setting up future meetings, to see how both of you are feeling about the progress you’re both making.
Keep things confidential and positive
It’s easy to moan about people behind their backs, but this won’t have any benefit. And if they find out about it, it’ll make your relationship even worse. Unless things deteriorate and you need to get your manager or HR involved, it’s best to work through the conflict between you.
Don’t let the situation affect your own attitude either, as this could impact your performance. Focus on the positive things that you like about your job and work on maintaining good relationships with your co-workers.
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