resolving conflict in the office

5 Ways to Constructively Resolve Conflict in Your Office

People are Frustrating, Aren’t They?

I like to believe that I have a high threshold for “B.S.” I also have an uncanny ability to call someone out when they are being ridiculous. This can cause me a lot of conflict because I don’t have the greatest ability to assess  how someone is going to react to my “B.S.” radar. Everyone reacts differently to different stimuli. In the workplace, you wind up working with a hodge-podge group of people that come from various backgrounds, experiences, and have very different personalities. For instance, you’re talking with a colleague about a project or assignment, and the next thing you know, you have somehow walked yourself straight into a boxing ring.
As much as we would like to knock some sense into people; ultimately, the way they react and behave is out of our control. Colleagues make decisions we don’t agree with, they miss deadlines, they may not be as detail oriented as we would like, or sometimes they just simply rub us the wrong way. How do you handle these types of people or situations? Do you ignore them?  Do you get angry and frustrated and raise your voice or slam your fists on the table? Handling conflict effectively can make or break positive interactions with colleagues, and if handled poorly can lead to the destruction of workplace relationships and ultimately, your projects. 

Don’t Get Bit! 

Conflict. A disagreement. A fight or battle. Controversy. An opposition. These are all one in the same; and you have undoubtedly experienced your fair share of conflict in the workplace. There is no way around it and if you say you have never experienced workplace conflict- well, I will just say it…. Liar, liar, pants on fire! Or, maybe you need a dose of reality.

No matter where you work or your profession, there will always be conflict. Whether you are in a leadership role or on the front lines, these issues must be faced head on and resolved in a healthy and productive manner for the benefit of yourself, colleagues, and your company. If left unresolved, these issues will generally manifest into an enormous and ever-escalating problem. Maybe you can try and avoid conflict, but you certainly cannot escape it. It will, at any point in time, rear its ugly head and bite you right where it counts.  

Embrace it! Or, Crash Like Dominos

Have you ever been in a situation where you and a colleague just disagree completely and the next thing you know blood is boiling and faces are turning red? Of course you do not want to cause disharmony with a colleague, so the first thing you can think to do is to get out of there as quickly as you can to avoid the situation! Right? Well, in doing so you’re creating a terrible situation for yourself and those around you. Avoiding conflict will always create a negative situation. However, conflict that develops into a hateful argument is hardly productive and will spawn irreversible discord in colleague relationships which will continue to cause problems for future projects.
Think of a table full of dominoes, and each domino represents a member of your team. Once you push one domino over, it trickles down the rest of the line and eventually knocks them all down, right? Well, the same will happen to the rest of your team if conflict is avoided and not resolved effectively. Sure, colleagues are going to drive you crazy and you may never understand why they make some of the decisions they do. Oh well! Buck up! Embrace conflict and engage in a constructive conversation that ends in results and productivity, not arguments.

Constructive or Destructive? 

Conflict can be a very productive situation. It may also be constructive or destructive depending how it is handled. Fighting with a colleague is never a good thing… or is it? If handled properly, it presents a challenge which encourages creating a pathway toward the alignment of goals and objectives as well as generating valuable ideas from colleagues which may otherwise remain below the surface. It is also an opportunity to resolve miscommunication. A significant amount of productivity is wasted due to conflict which is the result of miscommunication. But it is not always a bad thing! As long as the conflict is constructive there are benefits! If you respond to conflict with anger, attitude or avoidance, you’ve thrown your chance to be constructive right out the window. 

The Five Tips You've Been Waiting For

Well, there are many things you can do. For the consideration of time, I will focus on the top five ways to  resolve conflict in a constructive manner. 
  1. Handle the conflict sooner, rather than later. This may be the single most valuable tip anyone can give you. Don’t let conflicts grow into a major issue by ignoring it. Conflicts will rarely just blow over on their own- you need to do something to fix it! Have a conversation. Most conflicts arise because of what wasn’t said, rather than what was said. 
  2. Recognize that you may be the problem. Not everyone you have a conflict with is the sole cause of the situation. You may very well be the cause of, or one of the significant factors creating the negative situation. Take a look at yourself and think about how you are communicating or reacting in conversations or situations with colleagues.
  3. Brush up on your listening skills. Hello, do you hear me? I didn’t think so! Take the time to listen to what your colleagues are saying, do not jump to any conclusions. Take a step back and just listen without allowing your own thoughts or judgments to take over the conversation. 
  4. Establish boundaries. When people know their limits, they will usually think twice before stepping over the boundary. Without established boundaries, people will step on each other’s toes, struggle for power, or get involved where they need not be. This causes stress, frustration, and squabbles and can make for some very messy situations and conflicts. 
  5. Embrace your emotional intelligence. Or, work on your emotional intelligence if you’re lacking! Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and understand your own, and others’ emotions. Individuals with positive emotional intelligence are much more effective in guiding their own perceptions and behaviors, as well as interpreting others’. Be aware of emotional contagion also.  This is when your negative thoughts and emotions affect another individual’s mood. Think of it as catching and transferring emotions like a cold or virus- you don’t want to make others sick!

If I was to say that I handle every conflict perfectly I would be lying. No one is perfect, and that is perfectly alright. If you can recognize that you should have handled a situation better, learn from it. Test yourself by applying these five tips to the next conflict that arises and you will see vast changes in how much quicker your conflicts fizzle and with a significantly more positive outcome. Fight your battles. Duke it out. Just make sure you do it in an effective and constructive manner.
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Mallory M. Whalen, Director of Human Resources
Mallory M. Whalen

Director of Human Resources

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