How To Deal With Conflict In The Workplace

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Conflict is inescapable. No matter how hard we try, we interpret things differently, we step on ties and we make mistakes. In addition to being inescapable, conflict 

Despite its ugliness, avoiding conflict does not help in the slightest. If anything, it further exacerbates the issue and makes things worse. Think of it as a festering wound. The more it festers, the harder it is to treat.

So how can you deal with conflict in the workplace? Especially as an employee?

Don’t Fear It

We fear conflict because it is seen as a bad thing and because of the unpleasant emotions associated with it. Think of conflict as another conversation you must have, except a slightly difficult one. If the conflict is just another type of conversation that you need to have, then some of the fear surrounding it dissipates.  You will also have to make a conscious effort on your part to not allow yourself to be affected by it.

All actions have consequences and for a more anxiety-prone person, it might seem like the only outcome of the conflict is a negative one. In truth, that is just one of the many possible outcomes. If you believe that the resolution of the conflict can have a positive outcome, it makes it slightly easier to deal with.

Don’t Avoid It

Sometimes, you might try to avoid conflict by keeping quiet during a disagreement, thinking, “I will let this one go. Why stir up trouble?”

If it’s a tense situation, then yes, it makes sense to save the disagreements for later on (unless something really important is being disagreed upon). But otherwise, it’s important to share your opinion, even if it is one that goes against what everyone else is saying. At the worst, someone is going to disagree with what you said. At the best, you will have a constructive argument.

Listen First Without Interrupting

When two people or more are engaged in a disagreement, emotions are already high. And there’s always a good chance that emotions are going to spill over. Remember to listen first. Bite your tongue if you must but you absolutely have to listen first. Only if you listen will be you be able to offer an opinion that is relevant to the disagreement at hand. Interjecting with a response is all right, but interrupting a person by completely talking over them is an absolute no-no.

Carefully Consider What You Want To Say

Sometimes, dealing with conflicts includes thinking once, twice or a few more times about what we want to say. Are you participating in the conflict just for the sake of doing so? Do you want to say one thing but are disguising it as something else? Is the opinion related to the conflict at hand or is it only tangentially related? What is the tone you want to convey it in? Do you want to convey a specific emotion? All of these factors are important when it comes to dealing with or resolving a conflict. Tone, delivery, intent, they all play a big part in the way the message is interpreted by the other person. All too often, a small disagreement can snowball into a big argument because of the way the message was delivered.

Also read: How to take the grief out of grievance

What About Compromise?

Since conflict is exhausting by its very nature, it’s not uncommon for people to want to want to compromise, so that the disagreement can be summarily resolved once and for all. But compromise comes with a caveat as well. Are you the only one who’s compromising? Or are both sides involved in the compromise? If only one side is compromising, that’s not a resolution.  One side is merely ceding to an argument. It's okay to reach a resolution on the argument that involves neither sides coming to an agreement. Because a tendency to always compromise always becomes a bad habit. You let one thing slide, and soon enough, somewhere down the line, you will find that you are letting a lot of things slide. Resolving conflict is not about either side winning or losing, which is how most people view it. It's about coming to an agreement that the people involved in the conflict are fine with.

Action Plan For Dealing With Conflict

An unresolved issue is going to keep cropping up again and again if it's not resolved. The ideal way to deal with conflict is to draw up an action plan that involves both sides drawing up a plan that can deal with the issue. Sometimes, this might involve doing things a different way. Sometimes, this might include reluctantly agreeing that a project must be scrapped or must be started again from scratch. Sometimes, it might be the break-up of a working partnership. Either way, action plans are a must. Otherwise, nothing's really changed. Even more importantly, most action plans will need to be reviewed regularly. That's one way for you to tell if your action plan for dealing with conflict is really working or if you need to rework something.

Use A Mediator

Since conflict by its very nature can inspire heated arguments and poisonous invective, in some cases of conflict resolution, it's prudent to use a mediator. The ideal mediator is a third party who is not associated with either person in the conflict and not a part of the conflict itself. The presence of a mediator can go a long way towards keeping a conflict within the bounds of a civil conversation. A mediator can be a senior manager, leader, an outside third party etc. Through the use of communication and/or negotiation techniques, mediators can guide a conversation and help two employees arrive at a resolution much faster.

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