Everyone knows that totally avoiding conflict at work is impossible. While all conflict has the potential to have a negative impact at work, conflict about people is worse than conflict about tasks. In other words, when conflicts get personal, people are less satisfied and perform worse at work. In fact, task conflict may have some positive effects, while relationship conflict is always bad. But, what happens when you just don’t like how someone behaves at work? We’ve talked before about managing workplace stress – and conflict can be stressful. Read below for my 8 step process for effectively managing workplace conflict.
Understanding Your Trigger
First, you need to identify what triggers you. Maybe it’s a particular person who really gets under skin. Maybe it’s a particular behavior that bothers you. For example, maybe you really don’t like when people challenge your authority or when they show up to meetings late. Whatever it is that upsets you, you need to identify it. The first step in managing conflict is being able to recognize for yourself when you are being triggered to start a conflict. Even if the conflict doesn’t happen as soon as the trigger occurs, you might be “banking” your frustration, so that the blowup that happens later is bigger. When you feel yourself being emotionally affected by another person’s behavior at work, recognizing it is a really important first step.
Second, you need to manage the trigger you experience. If possible, when you feel you are being distracted by emotions stemming from a trigger, try to take 10 minutes to calm yourself down. Taking a a walk outside can help to give you some time to separate yourself from the trigger, whatever it is. If you don’t have 10 minutes, try focusing on your breathing for one minute. If you don’t even have one minute, try taking a second to think of something you are grateful for, instead of focusing on the thing that is bothering you. Mentally separating yourself from the trigger allows you to slow down and think about the best way to respond.
Taking a Different Perspective
Third, it’s important to be honest about how you have come across in the past and how people perceive you now. If you have approached a past conflict in a way that damaged your relationships, you may need to approach new issues with a bigger grain of salt. Owning past mistakes and being honest about how others view you will help you to approach conflict with a better sense of where other people are coming from. If you are only interested in your side of things, you could be missing really valuable solutions.
Understanding Your Goals
Fourth, you need to approach conflict with an outcomes- based mentality. What is your end goal? Is it to get another person to change their behavior? Is it to get folks to see things from your perspective? Determining your goal will help you to weigh options about how to deal with a problem. Sure, yelling at your coworker might feel good – but will it get them to change their mind? Probably not. If you weigh solutions according to how likely they are to get you to your goal, the right path forward will be clearer.
Fifth, you need to think about how to achieve your goals while minimizing conflict. This means that you need to think through exactly what actions you’ll take to resolve the conflict. You also need to make sure that you stick to the script when you are having conversations about what is bothering you. It can also help to think through exactly what you’re asking someone else to do. If you just say something like “I wish you weren’t so easily distracted”, that sends the message to the other person that they are flighty – and that is tough to change. But, if you say “I wish that you would be more engaged in the conversation when I share my ideas at work”, you are getting closer to having a behavioral conversation.
Resolving the Conflict
Sixth, when you are finally ready to bring the issue up, it’s important to remember to manage your emotions. It can be hard to stick to the script if the person you are interacting with is fighting with fire. This is another time when it’s important to remain calm and remember your goals. People don’t like to be put on the defensive, so it’s important to keep the conversation low on emotion and focused on behaviors. You can always take a break from the conversation and come back to it. It’s better than saying things you’ll regret.
Seventh, you have to actually listen to the person you have a conflict with. If you aren’t hearing them, they will pick up on that and write you off. There is no easier way to lose a fight than to make an argument that is counter to the other person’s goals. It’s also harmful to ignore the problems that you might bring to the table and focus only on the other person’s issues. So, if you want to resolve the conflict for good, you have to listen and truly hear other people. That might mean that the solution you come to also involves some behavior changes for you as well.
Finally, conflict resolution can be tough. That means that you need to practice these skills a lot. If it doesn’t go right the first time, give yourself a break and try again. Over time, it gets easier. And it’s worth it! You can even use this process with friends and family. You’ll be happier if you can slow down, think about what you really want to achieve, and behave accordingly.
What are your tips for conflict resolution? What challenges have you faced? How might you apply these tactics to conflicts you are facing now?
We would love to hear from you in the comments below!