How To Resolve Conflict At Work
By Deanna deBara Posted February 17, 2021
In a perfect world, work would be a conflict-free zone; you and your coworkers would be able to communicate effectively, collaborate effortlessly, and always be on the same page when it comes to how to get work done.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, and the truth is, you’re going to run into conflict at work—and you’re going to run into it often. According to the Workplace Conflict And How Businesses Can Harness It To Thrive report from CPP Inc. (the publisher behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment), employees spend, on average, 2.1 hours each week dealing with conflict. In the US alone, that translates to 385 million working days that employees aren’t engaged with their work—and instead, are trying to figure out how to navigate conflict in the workplace.
And all that conflict can have a negative impact on your experience at work. According to the CPP report, a whopping 76 percent of employees have gone out of their way to avoid a colleague because of a workplace disagreement—and 25 percent of employees have stayed home from work in order to avoid the conflict.
But avoiding workplace conflict isn’t the answer; if you want to feel engaged, productive, and successful at work, you need to find a way to navigate and resolve that conflict successfully.
The question is—how, exactly, do you do that?
Work to change your relationship to conflict
As mentioned, a considerable percentage of people will go out of their way—including staying home from work—to avoid dealing with workplace conflict.
But you can’t resolve conflict if you’re continually avoiding conflict. So, the first step to more effectively resolving conflict in the workplace? Changing the way you think about conflict—and the way you think about the coworkers you conflict with.
Instead of looking at workplace conflict as a contentious, challenging interaction you need to avoid, try thinking of it as a means to an end. Currently, you and your coworker are in disagreement over something. Facing the conflict and working through it will help you come to an understanding of your dispute—and when you get on the other side, you can be in a better position than you were before the conflict. According to the CPP report, 81 percent of employees said that a workplace conflict had led to a positive outcome, like gaining a deeper understanding of their coworkers or finding a more effective solution to a problem.
Shifting your perspective on workplace conflict from something you need to avoid, to something that can help you improve your working relationships, more effectively solve problems, and perform at a higher level will help you be more willing to work through conflict—and become more effective at resolving those conflicts as a result.
Nip conflict in the bud
As mentioned, the go-to for many people is to avoid conflict in the workplace. But refusing to face the conflict only draws things out—and can actually cause those conflicts to escalate and spiral out of control.
According to the CPP survey, nearly 90 percent of employees have experienced a workplace conflict that escalated. 29 percent said that a recent workplace conflict took at least a few days to resolve properly—and 16 percent reported that they’re still dealing with a current conflict that’s unresolved, lasted longer than expected, and/or is increasing in intensity.
So, if you want to resolve conflict at work effectively, you don’t want to draw the conflict out; instead, you need to nip in the bud and deal with it before it escalates.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should force a colleague to sit down and work through a conflict when emotions are running high. For example, if you get into a heated argument with a coworker, it’s best to let everyone involved have some time to cool off before working towards a resolution. If you and a colleague need to sit down and hash things out, it’s best to have that sit-down during a time when you’re both open, receptive, calm, and focused—and not, for example, right before lunch when you’re hungry or at the end of the day when you’re tired. Choose the right time to resolve conflict—but don’t let the conflict go unresolved for days or weeks at a time.
Bottom line? If you find yourself facing conflict with a colleague, deal with it—and deal with it head-on. The sooner you deal with it, the sooner you can resolve it—and the less likely it is to escalate into a significant, more unmanageable, or potentially damaging conflict.
Refuse to make it personal
Navigating conflict at work can feel difficult—but it can get a lot trickier if that work conflict turns personal.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for workplace conflicts to escalate into personal conflicts; according to the CCP report, 27 percent of employees have seen personal attacks arise from work conflicts.
But hurling personal insults at your colleagues—or vice versa—isn’t going to help you successfully resolve the conflict. Making things personal is just going to take the conflict to the next level—and make fixing the conflict with your coworker a lot more challenging.
That’s why, if you want to resolve conflicts at work successfully, you need to refuse to make it personal. And that goes both ways. On the one hand, you need to make a commitment to yourself that you won’t hurl personal insults or attacks to people at work; that you’ll keep the conflict contained to the issue at hand (for example, a disagreement over a project)—even if you feel angry, hurt, or misunderstood.
On the other hand, you also need to commit yourself to not taking workplace conflicts personally—because the fact is, a significant amount of conflict in the workplace isn’t even really about the people involved; it’s about the challenges they’re dealing with. According to the CCP report, 34 percent of workplace conflict results from workplace stress, while 33 percent of conflict in the workplace results from heavy workloads. So, when your coworker snaps at you or starts an argument over a project, remind yourself that it’s not personal; they’re likely snapping or arguing because they’re stressed and overwhelmed.
By refusing to let workplace conflict veer into personal territory, you make it easier to keep emotions in check and stay focused on a solution—which will help you resolve conflicts at work quicker, more effectively, and with fewer hurt feelings.
Resolving conflict is important—but if conflict crosses the line to abuse, take action
Everyone faces conflict at one point or another—and with these strategies, you have everything you need to navigate and resolve those conflicts effectively. But it’s important to remember that while you’ll likely have to deal with a certain amount of conflict at work, you do not have to deal with anything resembling abuse. If conflicts within your company have escalated to the point of abusive behavior—including personal attacks, threats, or a colleague going out of their way to make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe—it’s important to notify HR and leadership immediately so they can resolve the issue.
How do you deal with conflict at work?
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