Lesson 10: Resolving Workplace Conflict
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify whether you have experienced workplace conflict in the past
- Identify negative coping methods
- Identify appropriate ways to resolve conflict
What is conflict?
Conflict occurs when the needs of one person interfere with the needs of another, and the parties disagree on how to meet their needs. With different people working in one organization, it can be difficult to avoid conflict.
Conflict can have positive or negative consequences both on individual and team performance. The difference depends on your ability to identify, confront, and resolve these conflicts appropriately. By learning to handle conflict well, you'll increase your success and the success of your organization.
Spend a few moments reflecting on your past work environments. Have you experienced conflict in the workplace? If not, what factors or behaviors kept conflict from occurring? If so, how did you handle the conflict? What was the result? How could the situation have been improved?
There are many reasons behind workplace conflict.
- Different communication styles. People communicate in different ways. For example, a person with an indirect communication style may have trouble successfully communicating with someone with a direct communication style.
- Change. People often respond negatively to change, especially if they feel threatened or unprepared to successfully deal with it. This can sometimes be a source of conflict.
- Prejudice. Today's workplace is filled with people of different ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. Some people reject rather than embrace such differences.
- Mismatched goals, expectations, or values. This type of conflict is often the most difficult to resolve.
Coping with conflict
Many people are uncomfortable with any sort of conflict because they feel unequipped to handle it. In order to deal with workplace conflict, they incorporate a variety of negative coping methods, including:
- Avoidance. The belief that if you ignore a problem, it will go away.
- Acceptance. Sometimes it's easier to accept the problem, then gossip and complain about it later.
- Accommodation. Trying to please everyone and fix everything rather than deal directly with the conflict.
- Combative behavior. Exhibiting mean, abusive, and rude behavior, which is inappropriate and can turn violent.
Using such coping methods will negatively affect your work performance, distract you from your job duties, and sap your enthusiasm for work. Therefore, do everything you can to learn how to confront and resolve workplace conflict.
Before you can resolve conflict, you must confront it.
- Listen to your thoughts and feelings. Write down your feelings if necessary.
- Assess the situation. Take some time to think about the situation. If you have let your frustration level increase, you may have a distorted interpretation of the situation.
- Acknowledge what is going on. Remember, your perception of the problem may differ from someone else's perception. If you have negatively contributed to the situation, acknowledge your behavior.
- Set aside time to talk. It's often best to resolve conflict the day it happens. Set aside time to talk in person. Words and feelings are often misinterpreted on the phone and in email.
Before you sit down to talk, make sure you are in control of your emotions. If the talk becomes combative or overly stressful, take a break or reschedule it for a time when emotions aren't in control of the situation.
- Identify the issue. State your needs in a respectful and honest manner, but be aware of the needs of the other person involved. Communicate the problem without placing blame on the other person—you'll avoid angering your coworker.
- Listen actively. Give someone else a chance to voice his or her own thoughts and feelings. Use your active listening skills, don't interrupt, and make sure your body language is relaxed, not threatening.
- Explore the solutions. As a gesture of goodwill, be the first to initiate some sort of resolution. Try to generate some sort of compromise. Brainstorm possible options. Try listing pros and cons. Know when to agree to disagree.
- Respond. After you've discussed the issue, do not let your frustration increase; act on the solution you and your coworker have agreed upon. Focus on preserving a positive working relationship.
Sometimes conflict isn't easily resolved between two parties. In order to resolve such conflict, a third unbiased party is often needed to intervene, clarify the situation, and suggest possible solutions. Talk to your supervisor before your conflict reaches a dangerous level. He or she may suggest taking the issue to a human resources mediator or attend a conflict-resolution workshop.
When you're angry, frustrated, hurt, or fearful, the words you choose to communicate your feelings can either heighten or relieve the level of anger and intensity.
An I-statement is a method of communication that can help you express your feelings in a manner that will not provoke a negative response in your listener. I-statements can take many forms. As you become more skilled in constructing them, you will most likely find yourself coming up with many variations. However, when you first begin working with them, it is helpful to have an initial template to follow.
Click to download our I-Statement Worksheet.