Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. As individuals, we naturally have different values, points of view, and ways of communicating. Ultimately, its how conflict is dealt with that makes the differences between a healthy and dysfunctional workplace.
Healthy differences of opinions should be encouraged because they often lead to better strategies and decisions. Being accountable to co-workers means that others will challenge you to do a better job or follow through on a commitment – all of which is part of a healthy work environment. Unhealthy conflict, by contrast, interferes with people’s ability to do their work successfully and is often detrimental in the workplace.
As a leader, you need to be aware of how conflict arises and how to manage it. If unhealthy conflict is allowed to escalate, it can result in lasting damage to relationships and the business. Here are seven tips for reducing unhealthy conflict in the workplace. Ideally, conflict should be addressed in an early stage to avoid its escalation.
1. Avoid Judgments. When we find ourselves in a conflict, there’s a natural tendency to believe that we are right and the other person is wrong. All our energy goes into proving that point. Once we become aware of this pattern, we can learn to accept that the other person represents a different view and we can listen honestly with a desire to understand. After all, one of the greatest needs we all have is to be understood. By making this small shift in our thinking and reserving judgment, we can take a positive step toward a more desirable outcome.
2. Manage Emotions. Raised voices serve only to escalate the situation and often lead to lasting damage. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Reflect upon what they are saying and the feelings they are expressing. When necessary, allow tempers to cool before resuming the discussion at hand.
3. Discuss Needs First, Solutions Later. Too often, our initial focus is on solving problems. In the process, we overlook the human elements involved. By taking the time to discuss the needs of each party (and not just the wants), new solutions can more readily be discovered.
4. Look for Win-Win. Enter any conflict with a desire for a positive outcome for both parties. If both sides feel they have gained in some way, then the original conflict is much more likely to be resolved. Try and avoid the win-lose situation.
5. Choose Your Battles. It is sometimes prudent to walk away from a potential conflict rather than instigate further discussion. In these situations, you must learn from experience and then have the discipline to exercise good judgment.
6. You are not an Island. While it is probably more desirable if you could pursue your own ideas and set your own priorities, that is not a realistic approach in the workplace. In order to accomplish organizational goals, we must work with others and consider the ideas and priorities of the business.
7. Focus on the Present. If you are holding on to hurt feelings and resentments from the past, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be significantly impaired. Rather than being driven by past biases, strive to focus on what you can do in the moment to solve the problem.