how to handle conflict with your colleagues

In a workplace, inter-personal conflict is very likely, given the multitude of opinions, temperamentsand ideologies that exist. As the workforce becomes more diverse, and operations become global, instances of workplace conflict tend to rise even more. The downside of this is it can lead to an unpleasant office environment and affect the overall productivity of the employees.

Good conflict management skills are the key to handling difficult or unpleasant situations. Many times people involved choose not to address the issue, hoping the issue will die down or blow over with time. There may also be occasions where the point of contention isn’t major enough, and can be corrected with a little attention to detail, understanding of others point of view, and being empathetic towards team members.  15% of respondents in a survey reported conflict with co-workers as a top contributor of stress in the workplace. 

Here are five ways to effectively resolve workplace conflict  to maintain  healthy relationships and a positive work atmosphere. 

1. Be assertive and maintain your composure 

In a conflict situation, the best way forward is to think positively and not over react to such situations. Avoid interrupting others, listen to your colleague’s view point, and patiently wait for your turn to put your thoughts forward. Don’t hesitate to ask or clarify any specific point raised by your colleague. If you still don’t agree, beg to differ in a polite manner. Staying calm and positive during such situations can help you  asses, understand and reflect better.  

2. Act swiftly

Ignoring or avoiding workplace conflict for extended periods of time can result in small issues snowballing into major concerns for the involved parties as well as the business. Delay in resolution can lead to animosity between employees, and affect their productivity levels and the overall workplace environment. Addressing the issue swiftly, at the onset, makes it easier to handle and arrive at a quick resolution. 

3. Ensure face to face communication

The best way to resolve workplace conflict is to discuss the issue through a face-to-face meeting with your colleague, rather than communicating through digital means of communication such as emails. Why? A message or opinion communicated over such media is impersonal and can be easily misinterpreted - especially when one or both parties are feeling defensive. A face to face communication, on the other hand,  helps in better understanding each other’s feelings and perceptions. In fact, 55% of effective communication is conveyed thRough facial expressions, gestures and posture, while 38% through tone of voice and 7% through the words spoken. Studies also show that 90% of conflict happens due to tone of voice and remaining 10% due to difference of opinion.

4. Find common ground

Once the issues and pain points are laid out during the face to face meeting with your colleague, a common ground should be identified to resolve and close the loop on the issue. No matter the scale or severity of the conflict and differences, you can always find a workable solution that both you and your colleague can come to terms with. However, the key to bridging the gap is showing agility and keeping an open mind to fix the problem and move forward. 

5. Know when to seek third party involvement 

The most critical step in defusing and resolving a conflict is  involving a third party when your attempts at reconciliation fail. When you feel that the conflict cannot be contained or resolved with just your measures and has reached a highly volatile state, it is recommended that you involve a third party to help find a solution. The third party can be a manager, HR employee or a co-worker, who can provide an ‘outside-in’ view on the problem and suggest alternate course of action to resolve the issue. 

While workplace conflict is unavoidable, the key to resolving it lies in how you approach and deal with it. Choose the method and degree of conflict management depending on the personality types, situation and ideologies involved, and after careful deliberation. 

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