6 Rules to Resolving Conflict at Work

As children, most of us learn how to resolve, defuse and avoid conflict with our peers, parents and siblings. We may even learn how to “always win”. However, as professional adults, we often only remember how to defuse and avoid conflict; resolution escapes us. You might wonder: “What’s the difference?” or “Of course I want to avoid conflict at work!” But, the fact of the matter is, that when working with other people, conflict resolution can be a much more effective solution to potential conflict. This is true because:

  • When conflict is resolved, the situation changes; this allows the employees to move forward without cycling continually around the base issues. When we don’t face the conflict and work through it, we avoid and/or try to defuse it instead. If this is the case, the issues underlying the conflict do not change, they will just be compounded. So there will always be the SAME conflicts to avoid and to diffuse.
  • New information and ideas are discovered through conflict resolution. When a team is committed to resolving a conflict, they will be more certain to hear everyone’s view point. Many conflicts may be based on misunderstandings, or mis-aligned goals. When everyone involved names the issues as they see them, it is likely that new possibilities will surface. New possibilities not only can render the conflict obsolete, but can lead to innovation.
  • Team building. The experience of experiencing conflict, facing it and successfully resolving it will strengthen a team and build trust. A team who knows they can resolve conflict with each other will work much effectively, and they won’t be afraid to bring up important issues. This, in turn, means that important issues will get dealt with instead of being tabled indefinitely for fear of conflict.

So, if you decide you want to take the risk and try facing and resolving conflict – how do you go about it successfully?

  1. No playing dirty. Keep it role/behavior focused – don’t attack a person’s character. On top of this, make it clear that you are not attacking the person’s character.
  2. Don’t take it personally. On the flip side of not playing dirty is remembering that other’s are also focusing on your role/behavior. If it feels to you that there are people “playing dirty” – call them on it. And don’t forget to let them know how it makes you feel/react.
  3. Lay it all out. No conflict will be truly resolved if you do not share all the relevant issues as you see them. Don’t try to “tone down” your thoughts because you are unsure how they might be received.
  4. Don’t back pedal. If you meant something, don’t say “I didn’t mean it,” just because others responded negatively. If you tell someone that you don’t like how they did something, don’t say “It really wasn’t so bad” just because they seem upset by your feedback. When you back pedal, it sends conflicting messages, and it detracts from your message.
  5. Keep to what you know. If you suspect something, or are “making up a story” about something happening – verify it! If you act on assumptions regarding what others are thinking/feeling/doing, then not only will you be ineffective at resolving conflict, but you will look like an idiot. You can always ask – more often than not, you will get an honest answer.
  6. Empathize. When we are involved in a conflict, it is easy to forget that our “opponents” are people too. It is much easier to think of them as “the manager”, “the accountant”, etc. After that we start thinking of them as: “the thing which is blocking progress” or “the one standing in my way.” When we think this way, we lose influence with other people, because they see we are focussed only on ourselves, and that we don’t care about them. If instead, we remain aware that we are dealing with “real people” with real emotions, real goals and real desires, then we will be able to resolve conflict with them much more effectively.

The “rules” I have outlined here are true for all sorts of conflict, in all venues.

Happy fighting!

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