Workplace conflict is a fact of life, one most of us equate with nasty, unsolvable problems. But although conflicts feel painful, resolving them most often leads to positive benefits for everyone involved.
Conflicts at work can include everything from projects going sideways and coworkers placing blame, to disruptive egotists who crave the spotlight, to people with entrenched opinions (“No one will ever change my mind about this”), to jealousy, bullying, disagreements about a project’s timing or processes, and mistakes due to poor information or misinformation.
If not dealt with quickly and efficiently, conflict is bound to grow, resulting in resentment, stress and plunging productivity. Yet even conflicts that appear to be intractable can be resolved when handled appropriately. Here’s how to keep disagreements—large and small—contained, while encouraging collaboration.
First, don’t wait to address a conflict. The usual reason a conflict gets out of hand is that no one steps up to resolve things. But when we avoid conflicts in the hope that they’ll blow over, we’re kidding ourselves.
Once you’ve decided to act—and, after all parties have cooled down a bit—schedule a meeting. Find an empty conference room or private office. Set aside an hour or so to talk. Don’t go into this meeting determined to win—that implies the others involved must lose. Go in with the intent to compromise.
Start the meeting by explaining that you’re all here to clear things up—for the good of everyone. Focus on facts, not emotions. Never point fingers; that makes angry people even angrier.
Ask open-ended questions to learn whether your disagreement stems from differing goals or simple misunderstandings. Listen closely. Each person should be able to speak for a time without interruption.
You may be positive you recognize a coworker’s motivation, yet most often, you’ll be wrong—and vice-versa. Colleagues are likely to reveal information that illuminates a situation you thought you’d understood. Now, share your story. Others are likely to be just as surprised at your viewpoint as you were at theirs.
Have everyone present suggest possible ways forward. You want to agree on a solution that makes everyone, if not ecstatic, at least satisfied. Spend as much time as needed to throw out ideas until you agree on the best resolution.
The best part: When we learn to see conflicts as opportunities, we learn that within most conflicts lies the potential for growth, development, innovation and cooperation.