How to deal with conflict in the workplace

Workplaces are full of different personalities that can make them buzz with conversation and productivity. However, when working in close quarters, it’s inevitable that they will eventually end in conflict. If these workplace conflicts aren’t dealt with immediately and effectively, the constant battle of wills can drain the entire office’s morale.

How many times have you witnessed otherwise savvy professionals self-destruct because they feared dealing with conflict in the workplace? If you thought ignorance is bliss, putting your head in the sand and hoping it will pass by won’t solve the overall problem. Not only will the conflict most likely not resolve itself, it might even escalate.

But what can cause conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, someone having a bad day; just about anything and everything can cause workplace conflict.

In the end, the root of most conflicts are either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. To you navigate the minefield of office emotions and keep morale up, here are some helpful tips.

Try asking nicely

How to deal with conflict in the workplace: Ask nicely

If somebody’s done something to make you angry, or if you don’t understand their viewpoint or actions, simply asking about it can make a world of difference. You shouldn’t assume that people are out to annoy you–sometimes they have a good reason for doing it, and a potential conflict evaporates immediately. Make your inquiry just that–an inquiry, not an accusation of any sort: “Say, I was wondering why you did ‘X’ yesterday” or “I’ve noticed that you often do ‘Y’. Why is that?” Saying things like “Why the hell do you always have to ‘Z’!” is less constructive.

Learn their MO

Not everyone works the same—some people are introverts, preferring to work autonomously and only meeting when necessary—others are extroverts, preferring to be updated at every step in a process and sending copious emails to supplement their need to know. Before dealing with the conflict, you should as yourself and try to understand their position–what’s in it for them. It is absolutely essential to understand the other’s motivations prior to weighing in.

The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals, you’ll find fewer obstacles when resolving these situations.

Picking your battles

How to deal with conflict in the workplace: Picking your battles

Sometimes disagreements come in the form of opposing viewpoints, and other times it’s just a matter of miscommunication. Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. When going head to head with someone, it’s important not to take things personally and understand where priorities lie. If you feel you’re right, sometimes an appeal to a higher-up or objective party can help expedite a process. Ultimately, if the issue reaches a stalemate, sometimes it’s best to just let things go—remember that you’re part of a team working toward the same goal.

Don’t get in over your head

Sometimes people argue over points when they don’t have as much expertise as the other party. And while it’s okay to have an opinion, it’s important to know when to keep out of other people’s business; dramatizing a point for the sake of an argument can undermine another person’s authority.

Sometimes hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. While you may feel well versed on a subject or an issue, unless you ARE the expert, someone else probably knows more about it than you do. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds can’t even imagine. Smart leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions.

And when all else fails

Some conflicts are so entrenched that the participants alone cannot solve them; outside help is then needed in the form of conflict mediation. Mediation involves finding a third party trusted by the people involved in the conflict, and then trusting that person to help find a solution. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, a co-worker, etc.

How to deal with conflict in the workplace: When all else fails

In the end, sometimes resolution can be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, forgiveness, compassion, finding common ground, even being an active listener will always allow you to be successful in building rapport; if the underlying desire is strong enough.

Do you have any tips for diffusing conflict in the workplace? How do you handle personality clashes? Leave your comments below.