How to Handle Workplace Conflict Like a Pro
Many of us spend more time with the people at work than with our own family and friends. We’re close to our co-workers and have bonded over shared work. And because of that, when we find ourselves in conflict, it has to be handled in a professional way. We can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away…. That almost never works.
Sometimes arguments lead to creative solutions, especially in an environment that encourages open communication where you can share ideas without worry. That means it’s a safe place to share differences and ensures a healthy discussion. So, how do you do that? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Remember the goal: you’re trying to solve a problem. It’s not an argument between two people; it’s a discussion about how to meet a common goal and there is likely more than one way to do that.
- Remove “ego” from the situation. Use facts and experiences to back up your points, not opinions and hearsay. When you attack someone’s idea, they take it personally, even if that wasn’t your intention.
- Consider telling a story to illustrate your point. Explain an actual situation with a guest that brings your position to life and ask for input.
- Admit that “you could be wrong,” even if you think you’re 100% right. Once you do that, the other party will feel comfortable that you are open to considering their point of view.
- Focus on ideas. Never attack someone’s personality or individual thoughts that will make them feel defensive. No one wins in that scenario.
- Be curious. Ask questions, try to understand why they think the way they do. When others feel understood, they are more open to hearing you.
- Listen without interruption. Let the other person express themselves completely and then make sure you understood clearly by telling them what you heard. Ask if there’s anything else… be patient.
- Recognize your part in the conflict. What have you said or done that may have escalated the situation?
- Speak up before the argument gets out of hand. A small problem is more easily solved in the early stages. Have the courage to address the situation before it can snowball into an even bigger problem.
- Meet in person – it’s so much more effective to resolve a problem when you can read the body language and listen to the tone of someone’s speech. Don’t try to negotiate over email or text… there’s too much risk for misinterpretation.
- Speak only for yourself. Use “I” statements and don’t try to add weight to your argument by saying “everyone feels this way” or “we all think this.”
- Try not to use the word “but.” It negates everything that came before that. Try to make 2 statements and use the word “and” instead.
- Compromise – try to agree on something you both can live with. No one is 100% right or wrong in a disagreement. You can’t take the “my way or the highway” approach.
- Speak calmly. Try not to get too emotional in your delivery. You don’t want to be seen as someone who’s dramatic and tries to bully others into submission. No matter how passionately you feel, dial it down to a discussion level.
- Give the other party a way to save face. No one wins when you end on bad terms. Allow that they may not have had all the information, or didn’t have the big picture. Let them know you don’t hold it against them and part as friends and colleagues.
It’s practically inevitable. At some point, you will end up in conflict with someone at work. When that happens, you’ll have the tools to resolve it in a professional and confident manner that leaves all parties at peace.