Workplace conflict is a lot like the common cold. It’s common, it is usually brewing under the surface for while and it’s just unpleasant. Defined as “a sharp disagreement or opposition of ideas or” workplace conflict can take place between colleagues or employers and employees and, manifests a work environment full of tension. In the name of harmony and productivity we can all agree that conflict in the workplace needs to be mitigated. It should not be side-stepped through passive aggressive behaviour, but rather moderated through communication, respect and understanding.
Here are five ways you can take responsibility to mitigate workplace conflict:
1. Communicate openly
Communication is almost always the underlying issue behind workplace conflict. Poor communication results in misunderstandings or feeling misunderstood. Communicate as transparently as possible and be honest. Honest communication is the best way to build trust and avoid confrontation.
Open communication lays the ground work for expression, which creates an environment where everyone feels that their emotional needs are being met. Avoid miscommunication by making the effort to understand how others communicate. Often organisations hold workplace training programmes that set standard operation practices for communication. If you have undergone this training stick to those communication practices. If you haven’t taken the initiative to be aware of how others communicate, ask your employer for training sessions that deal with communication.
Listening skills are seriously underrated in the workplace. A lot is going on in the workplace and we hear a lot being said but are we actually listening? Often our minds wander off while in conversation. Maybe you start thinking about the email you forgot to send or what you are going to eat for dinner. You are hearing what’s being said but you’ve stopped listening.The difference between hearing and listening is concentration. You need to concentrate on what you are hearing in order to interpret meaning and understanding from the words and sentences being spoken. When you start actively listening you will be amazed at how much valuable things are being said. You might even pick up on clues that indicate why someone who has frustrated you is behaving the way they are. Listening often allows us to access our empathy and once we can empathise with someone, we can deal with them better.
3. Manage expectations
We consistently expect things from our colleagues: deadlines to be met and work to be completed. We even expect certain types of behaviour and social rules to be followed. We must ensure that these expectations are not ambiguous. Ensure you openly communicate your expectations in a clear, transparent manner.
Don’t take on more than you can handle. Often, we get overloaded with work and because we are eager to please, we take on more. Avoid doing this or you will be so overloaded and burnt out that you won’t be able to meet other’s expectations, let alone your own.
Sometimes we forget that expectation is a two-way street. You might expect your collaborator to meet their deadline and they might expect to be shown appreciation in return. Any interaction is only going to be constructive when both parties’ expectations are met.
The first step to managing other’s expectations is to ensure your colleagues, collaborators or team feel valued. Show you appreciate them and ensure they feel like a valued member of the team. Avoid being uninterested or unaware through consistent communication. Take the time to sympathise with their needs.
4. Don’t let emotion grab the wheel
Triggered by anger we are prone to throw our hands up in the air and let emotion take the wheel. Resist this urge and keep those hands firmly grasping the controls. Letting emotional outbursts drive your decision making is the mental equivalent of getting behind the wheel drunk. Nothing good can come from it.
Try the well-known tricks like taking five deep breaths. If that doesn’t work delay discussion of the topic until a later point in the day. Time often helps us cool down and gives us the space we need to see things differently. The most important skill here is awareness. Acknowledge your emotions but don’t let them drive your decisions. This is not an easy skill to harness and perfect. If it was, workplace conflict wouldn’t be so common.
5. Respect and understanding
The problem with people is that we all think, operate and communicate differently. This can cause friction and create personality clashes leading to workplace conflict between employees who just can’t manage to see eye to eye. But here is the good news: the advantage of people is that we all think, operate and communicate differently.
Change your attitude towards workplace differences and start looking at them as an opportunity to learn and innovate. Start by building respect and understanding. It’s as simple as walking a mile in your colleague’s shoes. Try to understand where they are coming from. What is motivating their behaviour and decisions?
Instead of focusing on their qualities that you don’t like, start paying more attention to their positive characteristics. Give them credit for the good that they do. This is a very simple, but very effective method to build respect and understanding. Once you understand someone better and you respect them more it becomes a lot easier to reduce any conflict.
The reality is that the onus to mitigate workplace conflict does not lie on the employer alone. As an individual you have the ability to mitigate conflict in your own environment by changing the way you communicate and by making the effort to understand those around you. It will help create a more harmonious working environment where you can be productive and enjoy your work.
Find out more about mitigating and managing workplace conflict with Chartall’s Conflict Management Short Course.