Although it might sound counterintuitive, conflict is an important part of a healthy workplace. By acknowledging that conflict at work is inevitable and following best practices for handling it as it emerges, what might normally be a roadblock can instead be an opportunity to identify problem areas in organizational processes and strengthen relationships between those involved.
Here are five strategies that you can use to achieve the best possible outcome the next time you experience conflict in your workplace.
1. Don’t hide from conflict
When conflict does emerge, one of the worst things you can do is pretend it isn’t there. Leaving interpersonal problems unaddressed, especially when between people who work with each other regularly, can make the situation fester and affect other projects within the office.
Instead, try to address the issue as soon as possible. Even just a simple check-in with someone can keep disagreements from ballooning and make sure that the person involved feels cared for and heard.
2. Set the conversation up for success
Once you and your coworker have acknowledged that there is a disagreement, begin by collaboratively setting goals for the conversation. What do you hope to achieve by discussing the issue?
Next, lay some ground rules to ensure that everyone feels respected and comfortable participating in the conversation. These can be as simple as “Assume everyone has best intentions”, or “Only speak for yourself.” By laying out a firm foundation for the conversation to build off of, you help to ensure that the discussion is fair and fruitful for everyone involved.
3. Understand the whole situation
Sometimes, the root of a conflict can be a simple misunderstanding that, once clarified, is no longer an issue. Even if the disagreement extends beyond miscommunication, making sure that each side’s point of view is understood fully by the other is an essential step in conflict resolution. One exercise that can accomplish this is having those involved explain their understanding of the other’s point of view.
After this is done, each side can then clarify if certain aspects were misunderstood or if context was missing. This can also be a useful exercise for identifying areas or topics that both sides agree on, which can be helpful in determining a solution that is agreeable to all parties.
4. Assess the appropriate next steps
While resolving the situation early on among those involved is an ideal outcome, it isn’t always possible. If you aren’t able to come to a solution on your own, it might be a good idea to tap an impartial third party to mediate the situation. Depending on the severity of the disagreement, this could be someone informal, like another coworker.
However, raising the issue to management or HR can help bring trained conflict management professionals into the process. This is especially important if the disagreement has affected productivity, team cohesion or the overall climate of the office.
As a final step, it’s important to use conflict situations as opportunities to reflect and determine what lessons can be learned. For instance, did any particular practices or processes contribute to the development of the issue? Are these consistent areas of conflict? Questions like these can be great tools to identify pain points within your own organization and prevent similar issues from emerging down the line.