Learn how to handle conflict in the workplace and beyond
Karen Collins, M.S.W., L.I.S.W.-S.
Licensed Independent Social Worker
Conflict can arise even in the best of circumstances. Learning to minimize and channel conflict in the workplace and beyond requires understanding, knowledge and skill. Difficult situations can arise, tempers may flare, personalities can clash, lifestyles can differ, work styles can differ and yet it is possible to maintain a healthy and positive work and home environment.
It is impossible to avoid all conflict and disagreement in the workplace and at home. In fact, it might not be good to avoid disagreement, because it can be a good thing. Some people think an absence of conflict in a marriage means the relationship is solid. Not necessarily. A lack of conflict can mean one person is passive and the other controlling in making decisions.
It really comes down to the way the conflict is handled. Are there personal attacks? Is there a winner and a loser? Or, is the conflict discussed and resolved in a way that preserves the integrity of each person? Do both people get a chance to give input and remain open-minded to the other person's opinion? If there isn't a compromise, is it an acceptable decision to both parties? In other words, nobody walks away feeling belittled, disrespected or personally attacked. Both parties might not fully agree with the outcome, but both parties understand the rationale and feel that they have been heard and are taken seriously as a full partner in the process.
Conflict can help people become aware of problems, enabling them to look for productive solutions. Try to view conflict as a chance to learn and grow on two levels: First, it's a chance to find a better solution to the issue at hand; and secondly, everyone involved can learn how to handle conflict to become a better partner, co-worker, friend and leader.
Here are some ground rules for effective, positive and healthy conflict resolution:
- You must be respectful, even when you feel frustrated. Avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
- Maintain emotional control. In other words, do not react emotionally, even when you are angry. Do not yell or raise your voice. Speak calmly and wait for the other person to finish his or her thought.
- Discuss controversial topics in a more structured setting and stay focused by thinking through your points and issues before broaching the topic.
- Work to understand and show appreciation for the other person's view. Do not think about your response while the other person is talking - listen to what he or she is saying.
- Communicate honestly and openly. Avoid shutting down and making any type of derogatory body language. This includes rolling your eyes, sighing, etc.
- Try to be objective and open-minded. You probably haven't thought of the issue in the same way he or she has.
- Express your concerns and issues constructively. Identify your needs that are unmet and your concerns as items, not as demands or accusations.
- Place your focus on solutions and not past indiscretions. In other words, do not try to place blame for the situation or past problems.
- Try to look for solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved. Look for a common ground and build on that.
- Realize every discussion, disagreement and conflict can help you improve as a person and a professional. Try not to take the conflict personally. Do not waste your energy on anything other than taking the positives from the situation. Holding a grudge is a terrible waste of your precious energy!
It is difficult to be in a personal relationship with someone who is keeping score of all of the things you did or didn't do. It is essential and it is your responsibility to make your needs known to that person. The same is true in the workplace. It is important to do your job well and be supported in your role. Again, as an employee, co-worker and professional, it is your responsibility to make your needs known so they can be met.
Occasional disagreements and conflicts arise. You can reach a positive outcome by keeping these ground rules in mind and by learning from each experience.