Conflict is part of life. We can get into conflicting viewpoints with our coworkers, spouse, kids, the guy at the convenience store, etc. The truth is that even though we strive to be nice and get along with others, conflict is a natural part of life that can occur in any place where we have a relationship with others. That’s why it’s important to know how to resolve conflict.
Some of us are better at dealing with conflict than others. Personally, I don’t have an issue confronting a difference of opinion right when it occurs. My wife, on the other hand, does not like conflict and typically needs at least a few hours to process and think through whatever it was we disagreed on. We can then talk through our differences.
Her method of dealing with our disagreements is probably better than mine because my quick-to-confront-type routine has gotten me into trouble more than once. This has certainly proven to be true in my case at work on more than one occasion, which leads us to the question: how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively?
What Is Conflict?
Just so we are all on the same page I thought it would be a good idea to clearly define the word conflict. According to the dictionary, a conflict is “a struggle or a clash between opposing forces; a battle or state of opposition between ideas, interests, etc. Also known as a disagreement or controversy, or a clash.”
Simple version: it’s when two or more people don’t agree on something and it escalates a bit to any manner of degrees. This can from two people stating their own side of the issue and then walking away from each other to a shouting match or even gathering other people on their side to try to win the battle. We see this play out in many versions and varieties in all aspects of our lives.
Conflict in the Workplace
Let’s take a look at some of the most common conflict situations in the workplace. After we do that, we will take a deeper dive into how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively.
1. Personality Conflicts
This is where you have to remember that we are all different human beings.
I like to talk a lot. Maybe I work next to a coworker who prefers quiet while working, but I keep chattering away all day long. Perhaps the person sitting next to you is an avid sports fan and dresses in their favorite team’s jersey every Friday, but you dislike sports. There are many variations of this same thing.
2. Leadership Conflicts
While there are some well-known management styles like the micromanager, the bold visionary, or the open door person, the reality is that there are many different styles as there are people. And as we all know, not everyone gets along with every type of leadership style.
I used to manage people, but I have been an individual contributor for 15 years. My personality type is such that I like a lot of room to create my own way I do a job. At the end of the day, I am very good at what I do and highly successful. That said, I could never work for a micromanager who watches my every move and needs to stay in communication about everything I do. It would drive me crazy and lead to many conflicts for sure.
3. Interdependence Conflicts
You see this one all the time. This is where one person has to rely on another person’s actions to get their own job done, and it doesn’t happen.
Say you are working to put together a deck for an upcoming presentation. You need some numbers for last quarter’s sales results. Bob in accounting is supposed to get you those numbers by a certain date, but he wasn’t able to. Your deadline is looming and you are waiting on Bob who doesn’t answer his phone or respond to email. This makes your blood boil and leads to a place where nobody is happy.
Unfortunately, discrimination conflict happens in the workplace as well. This, of course, is when there may be harassment or conflict due to someone’s race, age, religion, gender, and so on. Typically, these get escalated to Human Resources quickly as fortunately, many companies have a no-tolerance policy.
5. Work Style Conflicts
Work style conflicts relate to the way we work both individually or as a team. As mentioned above, I need the latitude to get my job done the way I feel is best. That doesn’t mean I don’t follow the rules and the processes. I just sometimes figure out ways to be more efficient about it to get it done quicker. As such, if someone told me I needed to check 40 boxes to do my job, we would have a problem.
Some people like to work alone while others in groups. Some people like me dislike being micromanaged, while some people like to get input from others regularly. I like music playing upon occasion when I work, but many people aren’t a fan of that. These are work style conflicts.
6. Creative Idea Conflicts
Creative idea conflicts happen during brainstorming sessions. Two people have different visions or ideas of how a project or idea should be. This type of conflict can actually be very beneficial if the two people are open-minded enough to listen to each other and cooperate on the idea. Many times, it can be the best of both worlds.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the majority of types of conflicts in the workplace.
How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace Effectively
Now that we’ve looked at some of the most common types of conflict on the job let’s look at how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively.
1. Calm Down
First and foremost, teach yourself to take a deep breath and calm down. Using myself as an example once again, I can tell you I’ve gotten myself in hot water by not calming down when I’ve gotten upset at something that has led to conflict.
Calming down can many times help prevent conflict. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you receive an email that makes you instantly mad. You immediately fire back a scathing response and feel better—at least for a minute, until you realize what your diatribe probably just opened the door for.
This is something I have been guilty of in more than a few instances. When I am smarter, I take the time to calm down before I respond. This typically leads to much better results.
When conflict has already occurred, do your best to keep calm when you are getting ready to engage with the person you’ve disagreed with. Approaching the conversation with a cooler head will go a long way towards resolving the issue.
2. Clear Communication
I am a huge advocate of the power of clear communication in every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, many times I seem to be in the minority. Many conflicts happen due to unclear communication. This usually leads to someone misunderstanding another person’s intent (if there even was an intent).
We tend to take things personally. It’s just the way we are built. In reality, very few things are actually directed at us—it’s just the way we interpret them. By practicing clear communication, you will help minimize conflict and it will help you understand the other person better, leading to faster and more effective conflict resolution.
3. Practice Active Listening
Remember, active listening is when you are truly paying attention to what someone is saying—not looking at your phone when it beeps, not typing an email when someone is talking to you, etc.
You must focus all of your attention on what the person is saying to you. This is vital to resolving the conflict because it is so powerful to truly understand what someone is saying instead of what you think they are saying. Practice your proactive listening skills so that you can become a master of dealing with conflict at work.
The ability to self-reflect and look at the mirror will benefit you when you find yourself in a disagreement at work. Unfortunately, quite a few people don’t take the time to slow down and look at their own part in the conflict. Being able to do this and being honest about the part you have played in the conflict is vital to working towards a mutually agreeable conclusion in the matter.
When you can look inward and see the parts that you have caused, you then have the ability to accept your portion and most importantly, tell the other person you know that you were part of the reason things blew up.
When someone tells another person “hey, I apologize. I know when I shared my thoughts through email with the rest of the team that really wasn’t the right thing to do,” it will go a long way towards mending that particular fence.
5. Get to Conflict Resolution
Finally, working to a conclusion where everyone feels comfortable about the outcome is an incredibly effective way to resolve conflict in the workplace. If you think about it, if you never actually solve the dispute then the bad feelings will tend the linger.
Work to get to conflict resolution so everyone can get back to working together effectively and happily. When you get to a place where everyone feels comfortable, the workplace becomes a place you want to be in again.
There you have it, how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively. Conflict happens in every area of our lives where relationships are involved. Every one of us is different, so it’s only natural that we will have friction and discord from time to time.
When you are aware of some of the key ways to resolve the disagreement in the workplace and other areas of your life, you will develop some great skills at living a healthy and fulfilling life.
More Tips on How to Resolve Conflicts
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