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Principles for Addressing Workplace Conflict

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Strategies for Dealing with Workplace Disputes

Pay attention to your emotions and how they influence you. Realize that emotions are part of the workplace and that negative emotions can fuel the conflict. Acknowledge your emotion and then determine its source. Is it based on a bad experience or a past interaction that may be influencing the current situation? Is it based on something you have no control over? Take the time to deescalate before moving forward.

Consciously decide how to respond to a conflict situation. Most people remember how you respond to a situation rather than what happened. While you may not have control of some situations, you can choose to respond in ways that help reduce work conflict and stress.

Give yourself time to prepare. Wait to address difficult issues until after you have had time to organize your thoughts. Take the time to understand clearly what your real concerns are. Ask yourself, “What is the underlying reason or the why behind what I want?”

Listen, reflect, inquire. Do you have enough time to listen? Is the setting appropriate? Make good eye contact and keep your facial and body expressions in check. Listening is hard when emotions are high. Cool down first. Make sure you are not hearing only what you expect the other person to say or what confirms your viewpoint. Listen with an open mind. Help the other person feel heard. Empathize. Ask open-ended questions to gather information.

Use “I” messages to express your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Focus on and clarify your issues, feelings or opinions. “I feel frustrated when you come in late because I am not able to end my shift on time,” rather than “You are always late.” “I” messages place the responsibility on you and include three components: 1) your personal reaction/feeling, 2) a description of the situation/action, and 3) the impact/consequence from your perspective. “You” messages focus the blame on the other person and they are likely to elicit a negative or defensive response.

Frame the issue in terms of interests. Ask powerful questions to better define the problem for the two of you to address together. The best questions are open-ended rather than questions that require a “yes” or “no” reply or a short answer. Good questions include “What would that look like?” “How would that work in this situation?” “How do you want to move forward?”

Focus on what you can change – the future. Discussion about the past and/or arguing about examples may be necessary for understanding, but should not be used to convince the other person you are right or to defend yourself. Focus on how you can both work more productively in the future.

Recognize that other viewpoints are possible and likely. Although you feel differently about the situation, the other person’s feelings are real and legitimate to them. Denying their existence is likely to escalate the situation. It is difficult to find solutions without agreement on the problem. If you do not understand the other person’s viewpoint, you run the risk of not solving the right problem, which could make the conflict worse.

Brainstorm creative options. By involving the other person in resolving the conflict, you gain his or her commitment and develop a stronger working relationship. Being open-minded to solutions expands the universe that can bring you relief.

Avoid using these common and ineffective techniques to deal with workplace disputes:

  • Avoidance
  • Indirect communication in the form of complaints and/or gossip,
  • Bartering
  • Emotional reactions
  • Righteousness (holding on to positions)