How can you better deal with office conflict?

3 tips for dealing with office conflict

Conflict is never pleasant. In fact, most of us avoid it at all costs. However, just because we wish it away doesn't mean we will never have to deal with it. Conflicts naturally arise in any professional setting

Whether it is disagreeing with a particularly strong-headed coworker or addressing a condescending comment by a superior, knowing how to navigate your way through these scenarios is critical to professional development.

While conflicts can be unpleasant, you can't always avoid them in the workplace. While conflicts can be unpleasant, you can't always avoid them in the workplace.

The four types of conflict

Before we can delve into how to deal with conflicts, we must first explore what types of conflicts generally exist in the workplace. According to Amy Gallo, author of The Harvard Business Review Guide to Managing Conflict, all disagreements fall into one of four categories.

  • Relationship: These kinds of conflicts have to do with the conflicts that feel personal. When a coworker snaps at you or raises their voice at you and you start to feel disrespected – these types of interactions make up relationship conflicts.
  • Task: In these scenarios, you have a disagreement over what should be done. This is often an issue that arises between departments. Should we close this deal ASAP or try to get a better one?
  • Process: Where task conflict is over what, process is over how. These conflicts consist of disagreements about how to handle a scenario. Do we make this contract a collaborative process or play hardball from the onset?
  • Status: These issues arise from disagreements about who is really in charge. One example would be a group project where multiple department heads are involved and each believes they are in charge.

How to deal with office conflicts

While there is no sure-fire solution for dealing with every conflict there are some steps any professional can take to better manage their own office disagreements.

1. Identify the type of conflict

Before you even begin to address the situation, take the time to understand what kind of conflict you are facing. Understanding where the conflict stems from can help you gain a better understanding of how to go about resolving it.. According to Gallo, this can help you understand the conflict in a less personal manner. Often when we don't take the time to address the root of the problem, the conflict can snowball into multiple types of conflict. Avoid this by taking a step back and attacking the issue at its core.

When you view conflict as a two-way street you are more likely to drop the blame and come to a solution.

2. Address what part you play in the problem

In any conflict, it's a common response to get defensive and see the other party as completely in the wrong. Taking this view will not only make the situation more tense but also make it much harder to reach a resolution, explained Financial Times contributor Naomi Shragai. When you view conflict as a two-way street you are more likely to drop the blame and come to a solution that suits both parties.

3. Set a goal

When you decide to confront your conflict head on, make sure you have taken the time to pinpoint what you want to get out of your conversation. Does your end goal involve finding a middle ground to the project at hand or are you simply planning to stick it to your colleague? If your goal is the latter, it's time to reevaluate things, explained Gallo. Your intended outcome will largely dictate your message and your approach so it is best to decide what it is early on. Sometimes your goal would be better achieved by dropping the argument altogether.

Understanding how to thoughtfully navigate office conflicts is an important part of professional conduct. In fact, when dealt with correctly, conflicts can be beneficial to your growth as a person. They help you see things from different perspectives and often end in a more creative solution. To learn more about conflict management and peer relationships, check out Implement's Conducting Yourself Professionally online course. 

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