How to: Manage conflict in the workplace

Unfortunately, you won’t always get along with everyone you work with…

Workplaces are often full of different personalities and viewpoints. So it’s only natural to butt heads every now and again – whether it’s that you disagree on how to carry out a task, there’s been a miscommunication, or you simply have a clash of personalities. But it’s how you manage it that really matters.

To make sure workplace conflict isn’t affecting your productivity (not to mention your workplace wellbeing), here are our top tips on managing conflict at work:

 

Acknowledge the problem

Never assume the problem will go away on its own.

Sure, it might seem easier to drown out the noise with your favourite Spotify playlist and/or pretend you’re ‘too busy to deal with it’ – but neither are lasting solutions.

In fact, the problem will only come back to haunt you in the long run (most commonly in the form of a passive aggressive email or an unnecessary remark). It could also be affecting productivity, especially if it’s acting as a roadblock for a task you’re working on simultaneously.

Instead, actively acknowledge the conflict and determine the reasons for it. Is it that you’re disagreeing on how you should approach a task? Is it as a result of being overworked? Or is there a personality clash?

Whatever the problem, understanding why it’s causing a conflict is the first step to resolving it.

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Be emotionally intelligent

Let’s face it, nobody’s perfect.

And in the midst of an argument, debate, or any other kind of conflict, it can be all too easy to act out of anger or frustration. But not only are these feelings unlikely to represent a rational outlook on the situation, voicing them could also make things worse. Especially if the issue turns out to be a simple misunderstanding.

So how do you avoid lashing out, and potentially saying something you don’t mean?

Firstly, figure out exactly how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it before you express it. Whether you’re angry, upset, confused, or anything else, understanding the main cause of these feelings will help to determine the root of the problem – and ultimately, how you can resolve it.

Once you’ve figured this out, you’ll be far more likely to speak logically and rationally when confronting your colleague or manager about the conflict.

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Don’t make it personal

The worst thing you can do is attack the person instead of the problem.

Assuming someone’s personality is the root of the problem might be something you do on impulse, but in reality, you should be talking about their behaviour and actions; and how they’re affecting you and the situation.

Because whilst you might be disagreeing on this particular topic or issue – that doesn’t make either of you a bad person. You just have different views.

For example, being accused of being ‘a horrible person’ is far more likely to cause offence (and defensiveness) than simply stating what they did to make you feel wronged or hurt (e.g. ‘I didn’t like the way you took charge of that meeting’).

This way, you’ll be able to keep your relationships intact, whilst fully communicating what you both feel has caused the conflict.

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Confront the conflict

OK, so you’re aware of the problem. Now it’s time to face it.

Discussing conflict can be difficult, especially if you’re not a fan of confrontation. However, it’s absolutely vital that you and the other person (or people) are on the same page when it comes to how you view the problem, and how you want to approach it.

So arrange a time where you can both speak freely (in private) – ideally face-to-face (although over email may sometimes be appropriate).

As a guideline, try and ensure that you:

  • Express what’s bothering you in a neutral and non-accusing way
  • Ask questions to understand the root of the problem
  • Listen to their perspective without interrupting or answering back
  • Take responsibility for your part in the conflict, and apologise if necessary

You might be surprised at how clear a resolution becomes once the problem is out in the open, and both parties have their chance to say how they feel.

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Devise a solution

Once you both agree that a problem exists, and realise that it needs to be solved, you’ll be able to come up with a mutually viable solution.

You may also find that once you work together instead of against each other, there are a number of other aspects of the situation that you have similar views on.

When coming up with a resolution, try and cover the below steps:

  • Express what you’d each like to change (e.g. ‘I’d like to be given credit for my work on X’)
  • Come up with a realistic plan that you both agree on (which may involve compromises)
  • Discuss how you can follow through on your plan (e.g. catch up weekly to discuss progress)

Finally, if none of the above works out and you’re still having difficulty working with a certain colleague, it might be a good idea to involve a member of HR as an unbiased mediator in your problem solving.

Because sometimes, something as simple as getting an outside perspective could be enough to resolve the situation is a fair manner.

And if all else fails? Try your best not to carry the conflict on. Agreeing to disagree might seem like nobody wins – but it could be the safest way to keep your professionalism in-tact.

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