5 Ways to Handle Office Conflict
By: Jennifer McKune
In disruptive and ever-changing work environments, the conflict tends to “show up” more frequently throughout day to day activities. Understanding what conflict is and why it’s important will be necessary, but more imperative will be your ability as a leader or individual contributor to navigate conflict in different situations. Given the right skills in handling conflict you can help improve productivity, streamline processes, reduce costs and increase ROI. How you might ask? Great question!
To begin, understand that conflict is simply a ‘difference’ in our opinions, perspectives, values, priorities, etc. We experience conflict when these differences appear to be insoluble. However, conflict can lead to healthy debate, improved team dynamics, added perspectives and innovation. Before you can reap these benefits, you will need some skills in how to navigate workplace conflict. Below are five ways to get you started.
Approaching office conflict with clarity of your perspective is crucial in being able to handle it successfully. Understanding why this matter is important to you will be a good starting point. And further: What is at stake? What is the story you may be telling yourself about the other person(s) in the conflict situation? What assumptions are you making? What are your tendencies in dealing with interpersonal conflict? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you with communicating your needs and perspectives later on. While you may not always have time to reflect in the heat of a conflict situation, it’s never too late to reflect on a situation and circle back with someone. If a meeting or proposal didn’t go well, be sure to reflect on it by asking these questions before circling back with the parties involved.
- Assume positive intent – Mindset
After reflecting on a conflict situation, you will have a good starting point from which you are coming from. Furthermore, you will probably have an assumed standpoint for the other person(s) involved as well, answered by the question, what are your assumptions? While you must make note of your assumptions you are making for other people, use it as more of a pivot to let go of the negative intent and assume the positive. For example, let’s say that you just presented a proposal to your boss on how you can save the company money and your boss provided you with lots of feedback, sending you back to the drawing board. You may assume that your boss is incompetent, doesn’t know what she/he is talking about, and is ultimately out to make your job harder. Instead, use these assumptions to shift your mindset. Such as: What if your boss was pushing you to do better because you were her/his favorite OR perhaps had already tried your proposed approach and was trying to spare you the feedback you would receive from senior leaders. This shift in mindset will change your approach for the next interaction, leading to a more productive conversation.
- Seek to Understand – Active Listening
Assuming positive intent is an important step in approaching a conversation when dealing with conflict. This makes your approach less aggressive, allowing your counterpart to be less defensive. The next step would be to seek to understand the other party’s perspective through active listening skills, which means instead of listening to reply, you listen with the purpose to understand. This means you reserve space for them to talk, ask open-ended questions for clarification, and summarize what you heard to ensure understanding.
- Brainstorm and Create Solutions
When you can fully understand the conflict through intentions and motivations using your active listening skills, you can start to move forward towards action. While the outcome of listening doesn’t always lead you both to agree with each other, it can highlight some common goals to build off of. Using these common goals, begin brainstorming together what solutions you are working towards, how can you get there and what it looks like once seen all the way to completion. Brainstorming and creating solutions together will not only achieve buy-in from both parties with a common goal and purpose, but ultimately it will build rapport and trust with each other.
- Move Forward
While the first 4 steps are essential, they aren’t complete without some form of take-a-way action, moving you both forward from the conflict. Be sure action is taken. Don’t leave a great conversation and brainstorm session without assigning out tasks and next steps to keep the ball moving in the right direction. Equally important as moving forward, are talking through lessons learned and how to do things differently in the next step. And, yes, there will be a next time, but with these 5 steps conflict in the office is far less intimidating!
Remember, conflict is healthy and important in the workplace; in fact, becoming more comfortable with conflict can accelerate your career and your team. The support of an expert executive coach can offer a new perspective as you grow into these skills. What perspectives do you have on handling conflict? We welcome your insights in the comments below!