How to Deal with Conflict

There will always be conflict at work.

It can range from petty squabbles to major disagreements.

Sometimes this conflict boils over into angry words or worse.

These situations have the potential to damage relationships, your professional growth, even your job.

In order to avoid that, here are five tips for how to deal with conflict at work.

1. Make the First Move

Whenever there is a conflict, there are often hard feelings as well. You may not be able to resolve the conflict as well as you’d like, but when it’s over, let it be over.

Make the first move to your co-worker or subordinate or boss with whom you had the disagreement. Tell them that you’re sorry for any bad behavior (you don’t have to apologize for everything just yet, only the yelling etc. that went on during the argument or conflict) and you want to move on.

In 90 percent of the cases, this will end the cold freeze and the relationship can get back to its normal temperature fairly quickly. (For the other 10 percent you have some more work to do.)

When it does, you can make a resolution to not behave as badly again in the future.

2. Own What’s Yours

There are very few disputes when one side is 100 percent wrong. It is almost always a combination of people, places and situations that led up to the difficult moment of conflict.

Once the conflict starts hitting its peak, or before if you can remember, take a moment to own your part in the situation. Take responsibility for the part you have played in getting to this point, even if it was only a minor part, even if it was only 10 percent of the cause of the problem.

When you do that you not only start diffusing the conflict, you will actually begin to feel better yourself.

There is something that is both comforting and soothing in letting a little air out of your ego at work. Once you try it, you will absolutely do it again. The other side may be 90 percent wrong, but you will be 100 percent calm.

3. Don’t Walk Away Mad (Just Walk Away)

There are very few conflicts that are not made better through time and distance. The closer you are physically to conflict, the more your body will produce adrenalin that causes the fight or flight response.

So before you fight, take flight. You don’t have to run away from any situation, but taking a break is a great way to calm yourself and reduce the heat in any conflict.

You can use that pause in the action for any purpose you want, but taking a short walk or remembering to breathe are two good suggestions.

While you’re away, you might find you discover you are not really that mad after all. Or you could stumble onto a possible solution to the problem that caused the conflict. It’s always okay to walk away from a steaming conflict. Just don’t forget to come back.

4. Ask for Help

When conflict persists at work, it is usually a pretty good signal that there are more underlying problems. It could be as simple as a personality conflict, but even then the workplace is not high school. You have to learn to get along with all types of people.

You don’t have to like them all, but you do have to find a way to work together. If there is recurring or persistent conflict, it is always okay to ask for assistance. This could be as easy as asking your boss to mediate or it may require the involvement of someone outside your section.

Sometimes it is enough to just ask for help. That recognition that you have a conflict serious enough to require assistance can wake up both sides in a dispute and get them moving toward a solution.

An outside pair of eyes and ears may also be able to pinpoint a solution that the parties in conflict can’t — or just won’t — see for themselves.

5. Change What You Can

In every conflict or difficult situation, there are always lessons we can learn if we are open to them. The fact that something or someone could provoke us to the point where we lose our temper or our cool is something we should look at.

Once the dust settles, we should take a close look at our own actions and behavior before the conflict arose.

Is there anything that we could have done differently that would have resolved the situation before it got so heated? Are there changes that we can make in our working styles or attitudes that could help us avoid this type of conflict in the future?

If we look closely there are probably things we can change that would not only reduce conflicts, but make us better workers and people too.

We all have secrets on how to handle conflict. What are some of yours? Let us know in the comments.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


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