When Workplace Conflicts Arise What Side Are You On?
When it comes to workplace conflicts (or conflicts anywhere, actually), have you ever stopped to think about whether you are part of the solution or part of the problem?
I remind the participants in our Respect in the Workplace Training sessions, that conflicts are often an inevitable part of humans working alongside other humans— but they don’t have to be so negative.
I frequently hear of workplace conflicts that impact people’s desire to even come to work in the first place. We spend so much time and energy avoiding certain people or discussing the issue with anyone else who will listen.
Instead of being a part of the solution and speaking with the person they’re avoiding, they’re adding to the problem.
The Cost of Workplace Conflicts
This can lead to such issues as a lack of concentration. Workplace productivity suffers because those involved in the conflict generally have a hard time focusing on their regular tasks throughout the day.
We all know that emotions are infectious. When there are “Chit Chats” about the conflict, camps may develop. Before you know what’s happening, entire teams find themselves in continuing and destructive conflict.
Who or What is to Blame?
How do these issues start in the first place? Well, experts offer several causes of workplace conflict, including:
- Personality differences.
- Workplace behaviors regarded by some co-workers as irritating.
- Unmet needs in the workplace.
- Perceived inequities of resources.
- Unclarified roles in the workplace.
- Competing job duties or poor implementation of a job description (i.e., placing a nonsupervisory employee in an unofficial position of “supervising” another employee).
- Mismanagement of organizational change and transition.
- Poor communication, including misunderstood remarks and comments taken out of context.
- Differences over work methods or goals, or differences in perspectives
What can we do about it?
The first thing is to recognize when you are being triggered by conflict.
Also, remember that when we look at a situation as “I’m right and they’re wrong,” it sets us up for problems. That is the equivalent of the ‘finite game’ where there is a winner and, therefore by default, a loser. Instead, try to see the benefits of playing the ‘infinite game,’ where the idea is that there is no winner or loser, but a constant sense of improvement.
Strategies to Solve Workplace Conflicts
Here are some strategies to improve the chances of successfully reaching out to that co-worker with whom you feel in conflict:
- Reach out with an invitation to meet. It sends an immediate and massive message if you take the initiative to connect with your colleague.
- Be empathetic. Understand that each one of us is unique, therefore seeing the world from that unique perspective. Appreciating this is a powerful place to start your conversation with the other person. It may completely change your opinion on whether the original conversation is even necessary. We all carry things with us to work that can’t be seen on the surface, but that deeply affect our performance and interactions. In this silent video, the Cleveland Clinic challenged patients and practitioners to build connection and exercise empathy, asking viewers, “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes . . . hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?” At HubSpot, they created a similar video to help employees understand each other’s unspoken struggles and joys, so they can focus more on asking questions instead of making assumptions.
- Recognize the power of language in your approach. Language evokes emotions in people and if the roles were reversed you would definitely appreciate the importance of conjuring a sense of reassurance and respect. Think about using such opening lines as, “I’m seeking your guidance …” or “could we discuss…” or “might it be possible for us…” Such conversation starters suggest you have respect for your colleague. They offer reassurance that this is not an invitation to struggle, but a genuine effort to build understanding and reach compromise.
Make it Personal Not Business
- Humanize the invitation to get together with the other person. E-mail can be a cold and impersonal mode of communication and this is a conversation that needs that face-to-face touch. Anytime you are going to dive into a difficult conversation with someone, you should think about writing down what you want to say and practice saying it out loud. Often, this process helps us clarify our message. Think about having a trusted person look it over and share their thoughts and observations.
- Choose a neutral and safe location. If you want to have a productive, collaborative talk, you need neutral ground. Barriers to effective communication are often unseen, and location can physically represent those invisible obstacles. The office, intrinsically a place of power, can be the least conducive to a fruitful conflict-management process—especially if you’re meeting in your own office or your colleague’s. Suggest a local coffee shop or taking a walk outside. If you meet in an open, impartial space, you are both likely to feel more of a sense of comfort, privacy, and freedom.
- Prepare for the conversation strategically. Consider your colleague’s interests and potential points of alignment that exist between the two of you. You are more likely to have a constructive conversation if you first consider what your colleague’s interests and needs may be.
- Next, be prepared to listen strategically – really listen. This gives you the opportunity to search for common interests, words, images, and values that allow you to start building bridges across what may seem like high barriers. Openings can come in all forms if you are genuinely interested in discovering common ground. By being curious about ways you can connect, you are more likely to build trust and rapport. When it’s your turn in the conversation, you can find ways to share your perspective while also bridging the gaps.
Of course, none of these approaches are easy—, especially in emotionally charged situations.
They also take time—conflict-management is a process, not an event.
But I fully believe that if you can employ these strategies with sincerity and authenticity, you can rise above the immediate tension and move the relationship toward a more productive stage.
We can all be a part of the solution if we want to…