Handling conflict at work can be a challenge. We spend a large portion of our days at work, putting in more waking hours there during the week than at home. This guarantees that tensions will arise periodically. The stakes are high at work – our job is our livelihood, so conflict there taps into our survival mode. Unfortunately, survival mode is not the best place for making good decisions about how to react to conflict. Though it may feel good in the moment to yell or stomp out of a meeting, that will seldom improve our career prospects.
We can manage workplace conflict, however, regardless of our position in the organization. First, it’s important to manage our expectations. We often have the expectation that our lives should be conflict-free, but that’s just not realistic. We don’t have much control over who we work with, so there can be a mixture of personalities that aren’t very compatible. Even at the best jobs, conflict happens. We’re all unique individuals with different perspectives and approaches to life. Tension arises as those differences butt up against each other.
We also need time and space to refocus on things other than the conflict. During breaks, it helps to get away from your work space, preferably even going outside – nature has a wonderful way of widening our perspectives. In addition, sometimes try to steer the subject of conversations away from any tensions. Avoid recounting stories of disputes over and over, with others or within your own mind. The less we focus on the conflict, the more likely we’ll be able to imagine creative ways to minimize any negative impacts of differences.
We need to separate opinions from the person expressing them. Don’t make disagreements personal –others are not worthless idiots just because they have a different opinion that we do.
Treating others with respect goes a long way toward easing battles over differing ideas or opinions. Unless open disagreement shows us otherwise, we all tend to assume that everyone else sees the world the way we do. The value of conflict, when handled well, is to help us understand one another better. Coming from a foundation of respect, we will be more likely to actually listen to what the other person has to say. With more information about the issue, we may even find ourselves adjusting our opinions.
And don’t worry too much if tensions develop at times between other people – it’s not your job to keep everyone happy.
If tensions are continually interrupting productive work flow for you, however, take the lead in addressing the problem effectively. Find a time when the situation is relatively relaxed to talk with the other person and explore their perspective. When we become curious about how others view the situation, it’s not uncommon to find that apparent disagreements are actually due to misunderstanding each other. For example, introverts and extroverts can see the same behavior differently – spending time chatting in the doorway may signal friendliness to an extrovert, while an introvert may feel frustrated at what they feel is an intrusion.
Occasionally, after direct approaches have failed, it may be necessary to call for help from a trained neutral third-party, either from within the organization or outside of it.
We all benefit from learning to handle conflict in the workplace. Besides improving our working experience, it will increase our job security – getting along pays.