Conflict is an inevitable part of working life.
We’ve all had times when we’ve experienced personality clashes with colleagues, fallen out with our manager or got into bitter arguments about who’s responsible for what or how resources should be spent.
Being embroiled in a dispute with colleagues at work is an unpleasant, stressful and damaging experience. If it’s an ongoing situation, we can easily become deeply upset or angry, and find it difficult to concentrate. We may be unable to sleep because we are constantly replaying the details of who said what to whom and may even start to feel sick at the very thought of having to go into work and face it all again the next day.
Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be that way. As we head towards the end of the year, here are five ways you can clear your desk of conflict so you can start afresh in 2020.
Don’t let it fester
All too often, we avoid trying to resolve an argument or dispute in the hope that if we ignore it, the problem will go away. This never happens. If we allow small niggles to bubble under the surface, they can soon escalate into major fall-outs. It’s best to sit down with the other party as early as possible to try and have an open, honest discussion and sort issues out. Face-to-face is always best. Often, problems can arise simply because people haven’t sat down to talk to each other about a work situation or project, and something said over email has been misinterpreted or has come across as terse or unhelpful when that really wasn’t the intention.
Listen and let others be heard
When you are in the heat of an argument, it’s easy to get so overtaken by feelings of anger and injustice that we stop listening to what the other person has to say. Stop talking and voicing your opinion for a moment and concentrate on really hearing what the other person is saying. Listen for what is not being said (i.e. the underlying issues or feelings that may be at play) as well as what is being said. Often, people take up entrenched positions because their need to be heard is not being met.
Avoid the blame game
Try to get out of the typical right/wrong or win/lose mindset. When we are in the midst of a dispute we often focus on pointing a finger and blaming the other person. But the more accusatory you are, the more defensive the other person will become. Aim for a win-win situation, where both sides have been able to make their views known in a respectful manner and a solution which goes some way towards meeting the needs of both parties has been found.
Understand the other parties’ perspective
Try to take a step back and understand where the other person is coming from. What is happening at work that might be driving their behavior? Are they under pressure to meet a demanding target which may be making them irrational and influencing the way they are dealing with others? Maybe there is something going on in their personal life which has led to them being on a short fuse or is causing them to act out of character. Getting an insight into the other person’s perspective can often help you see the path towards resolution.
Ask for help
If your initial attempts to resolve the situation don’t succeed, ask for help. If appropriate, your manager or HR may be able to help facilitate a conversation. Your organization may have trained, internal mediators who can help, or they could call on the services of a professional, external mediator. Bringing in someone who is impartial and can help to facilitate a constructive dialogue is often the key to getting an issue sorted out and restoring good working relationships.
About the author
David Liddle is the founder and CEO of The TCM Group, the UK’s leading mediation and conflict management consultancy. He is a leading authority on workplace mediation and dispute resolution and the author of the CIPD/Kogan Page book ‘Managing Conflict: A Practical Guide to Resolution in the Workplace’.