Conflict is inevitable at work. Without conflict, there would be no incentive for people to perform better, and no accountability when things go wrong. But managing conflict successfully is another story. Conflict can cause a great deal of tension between colleagues, making it difficult to function as a team. In order to reduce conflict and increase collaboration in the workplace, managers need to cultivate an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing differences of opinion without being made to feel uncomfortable or judged negatively. Here’s how you can start handling conflict effectively:
Create a culture of trust and mutual respect
Trust is the basis for healthy relationships and effective teamwork. If you have a culture of distrust in the workplace, even people with good intentions can do damage by alienating colleagues. By creating a culture of mutual respect, you can encourage employees to open up and discuss any issues that may be creating conflict between them. When employees feel like they can trust one another, they’re more likely to be able to work through disagreements without holding onto resentment. To create a culture of trust and respect in your office, you need to set an example. You need to show your team members that you’re ready to listen to them and accept constructive criticism—even if it’s something you don’t particularly like. If you’re seen as someone who doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, you’re setting a dangerous example. Your team members may start to feel the same way.
Know when to talk and when to listen
Many conflicts can be resolved with a conversation. But there are also many conflicts that benefit from silence. The key is to know when to talk and when to listen. If you have something to say about a conflict, it’s probably a good idea to say it. But if you’re listening to someone else’s side of the story, there’s no need to jump in with your own thoughts. It’s easy to take a conversation in the wrong direction if you get too involved in the details of a discussion. If you find yourself slipping into a tangent about the pros and cons of using a certain piece of software, backtrack and get back on track. You don’t want to derail the conversation altogether by talking too much, or you’ll miss the opportunity to hear what the other person is saying.
Learn the “why” behind the conflict
Conflict can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes, there are clear issues at play—like a disagreement over how to do a job or how to manage a team. Other times, though, conflict seems to pop up out of nowhere. If you don’t know why someone is upset, you may be tempted to take it out on them. You could get defensive and lash out, trying to justify the anger you feel inside by lashing out at the person next to you. If you don’t understand the root of the conflict, you may be tempted to try to fix it. This could be a big mistake. Once you realize that you were mistaken, you’ll be better able to handle the situation.
Keep a journal of conflicts you hear about
It’s impossible to keep track of all the conflicts that take place in an office, but you can keep a journal and write down the details of any conflicts you hear about. Not only does this help you keep track of each conflict as it arises, it can also help you find some solutions to the problems underlying the conflicts. If you don’t keep a journal, you may miss out on opportunities to help someone with a problem. You may also be tempted to try to solve a problem you don’t fully understand. In these situations, it’s better to be aware of the situation and keep quiet than to assume you’re doing something when you’re really not.
Ask for feedback from your team members
Interpersonal skills are important, but they tend to go beyond just how you speak to how you listen to others. Take the time to ask your team members how they feel about what they’re doing. Ask them how they feel they’re being treated and how they’d like to be treated. You may come across situations where people don’t feel comfortable saying what they want in front of others. If you can, find a way to speak with team members one-on-one and get them to tell you how they want to be treated. When you’re trying to help someone with a problem, it’s easy to assume that you know what they want. This can cause you to miss out on solutions that other people come up with. When someone else comes up with a solution, it’s easy to assume that the solution is wrong and that you should have thought of it first.
Don’t mix work with personal disagreements
If you’re having a disagreement with a coworker about work-related issues, it’s important to keep them separate from your private disagreements. When you mix work and personal issues together, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two. This could lead you to lash out at colleagues because you’re upset with them for being difficult or rude to you in some other context. It’s important to keep the two types of disagreements separate. If you find yourself getting too upset about a disagreement at work, try to take a step back and remind yourself that it’s not related to something that’s happening at work. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re frustrated by a situation at work. It’s important to remember that work problems can wait.
Conflict can be a source of tension and frustration between colleagues, but it can also be a source of strength in the workplace. Dealing with conflict effectively requires an understanding of the “why” behind the conflict, as well as the ability to keep the two types of conflicts separate. By keeping conflicts separate, you can be better prepared to handle the ones that are relevant to your work, while isolating the ones that are personal. With practice, you can develop the skills necessary to navigate workplace conflicts more smoothly and with less stress. In the meantime, these tips will help you handle conflict as best you can.