On A Team
The two most common problems in the workplace are miscommunication and conflict. Conflict in the workplace usually involves more employees than just the two in the conflict. Conflict, if left unresolved, festers and grows, and more employees become involved in the situation. Conflict can demoralize your employees and have an impact on everyone in the workforce. That is why it is important to deal with conflict and maintain positive working relationships with your coworkers.
What is conflict?
Some typical workplace conflicts include:
- Having different opinions
- Having disagreements or fights
- Testing someone's power or control
- Speaking up for someone's rights or beliefs
- Criticizing someone's performance, behavior, or attitude
- Threatening someone's "turf" or security (or insecurity)
- Being ignored or belittled
- Dealing with stress
- Challenging someone's will
- Taking a risk
- Disobeying requests or rules
Not all conflict is bad. Conflict can be a time of growth or problem solving. Conflict can also be a time when coworkers learn more about each other and each other's ways of thinking and feeling. It may also result in clarified expectations and honest and open communication. These can only be seen once the conflict is over.
There are basically three conflict styles: avoidance, confrontation, and problem-solving. Most people choose either avoidance or confrontation, but neither of those is very good at resolving the conflict. Using a problem-solving approach is the best way to resolve any conflict.
The avoidance style allows the person more time and keeps the situation from exploding. The person is passive and hopes that the problem will just go away in time. This gives each party more time to calm down and think things over, but it also allows the problem to fester and possibly explode at a later time.
The confrontation style is just the opposite. The person is more aggressive and wants to take control of the situation. An aggressive person can be unpredictable and may be perceived as violent. This could make the situation even worse.
The problem-solving style involves many steps, but it can lead to an excellent resolution. The hardest part is defining the problem. This requires getting both people to discuss what has happened and how the conflict makes them feel. The problem-solving model would look like this:
- Work together to identify the problem
- Have everyone involved brainstorm solutions
- Have everyone agree on a solution (try for a win/win situation)
- Check back later to see if the problem has been resolved
Tips for Dealing With Conflict
Conflict exists in almost every environment, and if you are lucky, you have avoided being in the middle of it. However, if you do become involved in conflict in your workplace, here are some things you can do to help resolve it:
- Do not get involved in other people's conflicts. Let them resolve their own conflicts.
- Do not get others involved in your conflicts. Try to deal with them on your own. It is extremely unprofessional to draw others into your conflict. That means to not gossip about it.
- Do not just ignore a conflict and hope it goes away. To be able to work out your conflicts is a sign of maturity and professional behavior. If you honestly try to resolve it, and you are not successful, speak with your supervisor.
- Know the difference between conflict and harassment. If a behavior is because of sexual, racial, or ethnic reasons, it is not conflict. It is harassment, and it should be reported immediately to your boss.
- Step back and think about what you are unhappy about. This is a big one. State how the situation makes your feel or what you want. Phrase your complaints in "I" statements. You need to focus on resolution, not hurt and anger.
- Do not attack the other person. This is very unprofessional. There are always two sides to every issue. While you may feel hurt or unfairly treated, the other person has a viewpoint, too.
- Do not try to "win" the conflict. Your attitude should be to solve the situation and do what is best for the company. Do not make it personal.
- Arrange to meet with the other person away from the workplace. If you feel that eyes are watching and ears are listening, you will not be able to communicate clearly. You want the environment to be safe so both of you can be open and honest.
- Try listening to what the other person is saying. The other person is allowed to have an opinion, too. Take the high road and give the person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there is no conflict, but rather problems in communication.
- When trying to resolve the conflict, stick to the subject. Remember your communication skills. Stay with your message and focus. If you are listening to the other person to see the other point of view, you do not need to get nasty. Do not drag up old conflicts or make personal attacks.
- Do not pull your supervisor into every conflict. You would not bring in your mother to handle your workplace conflicts, so why drag your boss into it. You are old enough to deal with your own situations. Save your boss' involvement for the really big issues.
Things to Think About
Remember that your coworkers are people, too. They have lives, hobbies, interests, and they bring with them a past. You both have a responsibility to your employer to do great work for the company.
- There is usually more than one way to do something. Demanding that your way is the only way is very rigid. There is no harm in listening to another view or seeing a different method. You may learn something.
- People have different personality styles. Different personalities bring in different perspectives and insight. Remember that this is a good thing.
- People also have different values. Some people are procrastinators while others finish well before the deadline. Some people are orderly and tidy while others prefer a more chaotic style. Do not judge someone else by your values.
- Resources are scarce in many businesses. Fighting over supplies or funding does not benefit either party. If you are working for the same employer, look for ways to settle the conflict without devastating others. You want the company to succeed.
- Deadlines and complex tasks cause stress. Someone may be overly stressed by impending deadlines and not thinking clearly when communicating. Maybe what was said was not about you.
Handling conflict requires that you deal with it, and that you think of what is best for the company. It is not about you. If you take this attitude, you will look at the next workplace conflict in a completely different perspective. You may even be surprised at how easily the conflict can be resolved.
Next section: Stress