Conflict at work is inevitable, even if you do everything in your power to avoid confrontational situations. The truth is, you’re not always going to agree with everyone, and you’re not expected to! To ensure conflict doesn’t damage your career development, here are eight tips on how to deal with conflict at work in a productive way.
Pick your battles
When tension develops between you and a colleague it can be tempting to get defensive or aggressive whenever you approach them. This will only cause the dispute to worsen unnecessarily, especially if you forestall the conflict each time. Instead, determine which issues are truly important and worth resolving rather than letting every niggle develop into a full-blown argument. If you let the little things slide, you will find you’re far more likely to succeed in battles that really matter to you.
Pinpoint the real issue
Letting your emotions get the better of you is one of the worst things you can do when dealing with a conflict at work, mainly because it often leads to you saying something you’ll soon regret. If you frequently fly into a rage then you will develop a reputation for being weak and unstable when things get tough. To prevent an emotional reaction, take yourself away from the situation and have some time to think logically about it. By conducting a bit of analysis before giving your response, you can identify and deal with the real issue. If you handle the majority of minor conflicts like this, you will soon gain respect from your colleagues and problems will not escalate unnecessarily.
Open your ears
Once you sit down to discuss the matter, don’t bulldoze your opponent into silence with one-sided opinions and verbal attacks – this will get you nowhere fast! You need to listen to their perspective in order to truly understand the problem. If you feel that the meeting could get out of hand, decide on a time limit so you can reduce the likelihood of irrelevant issues being raised and encourage both of you to focus on the most important points of your argument. Making notes on or repeating their argument back to them can help you to fully understand their perspective and enable you to find mutual respect.
Don’t take it to heart
It can be extremely difficult not to take criticism personally as often it can feel as though someone’s conflicting opinion is an attack on you. The reality is, someone’s alternative viewpoint most likely has nothing to do with your ability or you as a person, it’s just different people have different perspectives. If you can learn to take constructive criticism on the chin your career will seriously benefit.
Adopt professional language
It’s important to remain professional as we have already mentioned how allowing emotionally-fuelled verbal attacks only result in damaging the situation further. So as not to intimidate the other person, avoid subjective or cynical language which will only encourage them to become defensive. Instead, use business-like phrases to remain professional and if you feel an emotional outburst rising, it’s best to leave and reschedule the meeting once you’ve had time to calm down.
Involve an intermediary
When you’re caught up in a conflict sometimes it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees, or perhaps you simply cannot bear to hear a colleague you dislike tell you your argument is flawed. This is where an intermediary can help: they can give you a third-party perspective and you can talk through your issues in a professional and fair way. This can either be done informally with someone whom you both respect or, if this doesn’t resolve the issue, then it’s best to ask a supervisor to help you organise a formal meeting. If you choose the formal approach, your behaviour will have to be extremely professional and your supervisor will need to see that this is not simply a spat with someone who holds a conflicting viewpoint.
Be willing to negotiate
The ideal solution to a conflict is to come to an agreement which you are both happy with. To achieve this you must learn how to compromise effectively as being stubborn will only make matters worse: your opponent will soon realise you’re unable to listen. You will gain far more respect and be more likely to achieve a favourable solution if you’re willing to meet half way and show the other person you’re not allowing your emotions to determine your behaviour.
The best way to avoid conflict is to stay clear of office gossip – seems simple right? However, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get involved in discussions that are fuelled by rumours and half-truths about your fellow colleagues. If someone starts to gossip around you, try to change the subject or remove yourself from the conversation subtly. There’s no harm in building good relationships with your co-workers, but if you begin to gossip you could seriously harm your career prospects.