Here are nine ideas to help you successful deal with conflict at work:
- Disagreement is not the same as conflict. Disagreement can lead to discussion and learning. It’s easy to sense disagreement and feel oneself getting ready for battle. Showing you want to discuss and learn from different opinions will help others listen to you, you might also widen your understanding of issues.
- Different experiences lead to different ideas, which may also be valid. You don’t know what the future holds, but it’s likely it will be different to your predictions. Different ideas can enrich your firm’s ability to survive and prosper, even if it feels more painful while you develop them. Explore connections and similarities between the different views, not highlight the differences.
- Focus on the problem, not the person. Remind yourself that the individuals and what they believe isn’t the issue. As a group you are discussing an issue. It is the issue that needs to be resolved, not the person!
- Express disagreement with respect. If somebody makes a statement you disagree with, think about how best to express your thoughts, rather than just reacting. An emotional response “That’s totally wrong” or “that’s obvious and I said it 25 minutes ago” makes things worse. Becoming emotive can show you’re dismissing opinions different to yours, implying to others they’re irrelevant. More open statements can express your disagreement and allow the debate to continue. Try something like:
- “That’s interesting: I see we have different views. Do you mind if I explain where I’m coming from?”
- “I’ve seen different things, possibly as I’ve had different experiences…”
- Don’t say “I understand”. Most people interpret “I understand” to mean you don’t really care about their feelings and you’d like the conversation on this matter to stop (however well intentioned you were when you said it). Quite often “I understand” is followed with the word BUT, so the listener tends to prepare for it. Consider their view, then restate your understanding of their statement, “You must be…” (sad that this happened). At least this shows you’ve thought about their perspective.
- Don’t be sorry! Apologising if you have done something (past tense) that affected somebody maybe good. However, apologising for what you’re about to do, suggests you’re not sorry. “I’m sorry you don’t like what I have to say, but…” could be better phrased as “I feel badly that I’ve caused a misunderstanding between us. How can I improve this situation right?”
- Develop an understanding. Asking questions understand how somebody got to the conclusion you disagree with can help you learn. They may have started somewhere different, or come across different issues “en-route” that could enrich your thoughts. Open questions are essential here if the other person isn’t to feel that they’re being railroaded. Active listening will help them know you’re listening and allow you to learn more. If you want to download our free guide to Active Listening,
- Talk non-violently. It’s very easy to escalate a difficult conversation. Try communicating by stating observations, feelings, needs, and requests in that order; it can often help.
- If it gets too heated consider having a recess. It’s important to focus on the issues, not the argument. Allowing all parties to cool down can be important, but it’s no good thinking about a recess afterwards.
What are your tips for dealing with conflict at work so you learn as a firm, and remain on talking terms?