It’s inevitable. You’re going to have conflicts at work. Most of the time they are minor issues – differences of opinion, low stakes disagreements, and misunderstandings. But there are times when the conflicts are significant. It may be that there is a lot at stake. It may be that the person you’re dealing with is someone you have had difficulties with in the past. It may be that you have strong opinions about the issue, the person, or the “right” solution.
No matter the cause of the conflict, your approach to dealing with it will determine how effectively you move through the challenge. Here are a few things NOT to do:
- Shut down – Refusing to engage and backing away from a conflict rarely makes it go away. In fact, your disengagement can escalate the conflict or cause more people to get involved in order to get things resolved. Behaviors like clamming up in a meeting, avoiding the person or people involved, brooding in your office, and giving colleagues the cold shoulder are destructive. Instead, even if you have to step away to calm yourself or reflect on what is going on, be proactive in having the necessary and difficult conversations and stay open to hearing what others think.
- Dig in your heels – “My way or the highway” is also not a healthy approach to resolving a conflict, even if you have the authority or title to direct an outcome. Behaviors like making demands, getting angry, refusing to consider alternatives, and shutting down discussion only serve to generate more tension and potentially cause people to go around you. Instead, demonstrate your willingness to hear other viewpoints, ask questions for greater understanding, share more about your rationale and analysis, and challenge your assumptions.
- Make it personal – If you see a conflict as an attack on you personally or a reflection on someone else’s personal traits, then the issue will not get resolved and relationships will be damaged. Behaviors like taking personal offense, name calling, doubting yourself and your worth, and jumping to conclusions about another’s motives get in the way of focusing on the issue or task at hand. Instead, avoid judgment about the person and focus on the situation and source of the conflict. And, as they say, “don’t take it personally, even if it has your name on it.”
- Point the finger – Assigning blame in a conflict puts everyone on the defensive. Certainly, it’s important to understand what happened in order to improve how things are done and potentially avoid future conflicts, but finger pointing and blaming are not the place to start. Behaviors like leveling accusations, copying other people to draw attention to someone’s mistake, shifting responsibility for a conflict away from you, and making excuses will not resolve a conflict. Instead, first focus on what is going on and what needs to happen to address it before jumping into “whodunit.” Reflect on what role you may have played and all of the factors that could have affected the situation.
- Pretend everything’s fine – Ignoring an issue or painting an unrealistic rosy picture is also detrimental to resolving conflict. Behaviors like glossing over important points, being overly optimistic, and not holding others accountable can prolong a conflict. Instead, be willing to dig into what is going on, get input from those involved, and avoid vague or conflicting messages about the issue and the resolution. Tackle it head-on and be willing to shine a light on problem areas that need to be addressed.
Avoiding these five behaviors will help you to move faster toward successful conflict management. Knowing what gets in the way of resolving a work conflict will prepare you to avoid those obstacles and keep you focused on healthy approaches to conflict.
What other behaviors get in the way of resolving conflict at work? What should you do instead?
Please leave a comment.
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To learn skills and tools for having productive conflict, contact Robyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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