It’s inevitable. At some point you will have a disagreement with someone at work. It may be a minor argument or a major blow-up. Usually you can work it out and move on with no problems, maybe even with a much stronger solution or approach. Unfortunately though, there are also far too many times when these work conflicts grow to take on a life of their own. It becomes known that these two people or these two departments do not get along. It becomes the Hatfields and the McCoys – and aggressive behavior or, more likely, passive aggressive behavior occurs.

One of my favorite quotes from Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” To me, that field is the neutral territory that we have to seek in order to resolve a work conflict that has become untenable. If you are caught in a work conflict that is not getting any better, or you want to step in to help resolve one that is making your job more difficult, here are a few ways to get things moving in the right direction:

  • Find the common goal – To get past a work conflict, it requires stepping away from your personal agenda, seeing all sides of the issue, and finding or creating a shared vision or goal. What is the thing that you both want? What is best for the team or organization in the long run? What is the common driver for you and your colleague? Getting to that common objective can make it much easier to resolve the situation.
  • Press the reset button – One way to address a problem anew is to rewind or reset to get at the core issue or initial catalyst for the disagreement. Put aside recent issues and reflect on what occurred when the conflict first arose. Quietly reflect and work your way back to what caused the problem in the first place. The passage of time may help you to realize that the initial issue can be resolved or was truly just a misunderstanding.
  • Get on the same side of the table – Literally and figuratively. When you are in conflict, sitting across the table from each other only locks in the perspective that you are at odds with each other. Meet with your colleague and sit next to each other at the table. Agree to take on each other’s perspective while you discuss the issue. Truly see the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  • Leave the office – Sometimes neutral territory is the coffee shop across the street from the office. I have resolved many a work issue by buying my colleague a cup of coffee or their favorite afternoon snack away from the office where we could connect in a more casual and relaxed way.
  • Look them in the eye – It’s surprising how many work conflicts are generated from email or phone messages. Personally, I find nothing worse than being copied on an email fight. It’s embarrassing for everyone. If you are caught in a conflict that is playing out electronically, hang up the phone or put the keyboard aside, and have a conversation in person. If in person is not possible, consider a Skype or videoconference, where you can see your colleague’s face, read their body language, convey your desire to resolve the issue, and rebuild the relationship.
  • Wipe the slate clean – There are times when it is best to agree to disagree and move forward. Rather than get stuck in a disagreement, clear the air and move on.

If you are ready to address that situation at work that is annoying at best or damaging at its worst (and even if you are not ready), make the first move to find neutral territory and commit to a better relationship. Everyone will be the better for it.

What steps have you taken to resolve a conflict at work? What worked?
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