When you are faced with conflict at the workplace, your primal instinct kicks in—fight or flight. Running away translates to denial that the issue exists and sidestepping the topic when it comes up. Fighting involves an emotional outburst, needless aggression and fixing the blame. There is a third, professional, option that you can choose: pursuing your best interests rationally.
Conflict is best understood through three principles. First, that it is inevitable at work. A clash simply indicates that people are concerned sufficiently about an issue to disagree with each other. Accept it and proceed. Second, that you can never win a conflict. Pushing for an outright victory escalates it to a war, where everyone gets hurt. Third, you can stabilize and resolve disagreements while creating workable solutions.
Workplace fracas arises from structural or personal causes. The former includes sharing of scarce resources, guarding one’s area of responsibility, and discrepancies in seniority and compensation. Personal causes include ego, competitiveness, jealousy, status, and gender stereotypes. These issues grow to full-blown clashes if either party has poor communication skills or indulges in strong emotional reactions. However, you can master the art of conflict resolution. Here’s how.
Each conflict is an opportunity to grow, irrespective of how painful the consequences. Understanding what works and what doesn’t is invaluable for all future disagreements. So listen well to learn and arrive at the best outcome in the current conflict. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the motives of the other person, which will help you handle the issue better.
Choose your battles wisely. You cannot win or fight them all. Stick to those where the consequences matter to you. In all other disagreements, give way to preserve energy, relationships and peace of mind. Whether you or a competitor gets a reserved parking slot is not as important as getting the next big assignment. Seek to confront and address the issue as early as possible in its lifecycle. Unless there is a clear tactical advantage, procrastination or avoidance only serves to increase the cost to your career and personal happiness. Finally, adopt an honest, open approach and plain communication. Avoid sarcastic comments or loud interaction, and ensure that you exude a positive body language.
Ask for a meeting to discuss the issue. If the other person is willing, invite a mature, unbiased mediator, such as your common boss. During the discussion, use neutral language shorn of judgmental tone and words; focus on ‘I’ over ‘you’. Speak about your issues and how you felt, not what the other person did. As the discussion proceeds, note down the points on which there is no disagreement. Use these as a foundation to build the solution. Acknowledge actions where you were clearly wrong while accepting the other person’s positive contribution, both past and present. Your actions will help release some stress and bring forth reciprocal statements.
Next, make sure that both parties understand the price to be paid in terms of work output and relationships if the conflict continues to escalate. Then try to generate various agreeable solutions. Towards the end of the meeting, request for an assurance from all parties on concrete steps that each will take to reduce the level of conflict. If there is no consensus, seek a commitment for another meeting, and on the medium of communication in the interim. Each meeting will increase the comfort and defuse the intensity of the conflict.
By : Economic Times