Dealing with Conflict

Almost all workplaces involve contact with people with whom we might not choose to associate under other circumstances. That’s life, and learning to get on with those we don’t like or don’t share our values is part of being a grown-up. It’s also true that most conflicts can be resolved – even the very worse kind. It won’t happen overnight but with good will on both sides it will happen.

Chief Happiness Officer blogger, Alexander Kjerulf (http://positivesharing.com/2006/07/5-essential-steps-to-resolve-a-conflict-at-work/) distils work conflict solutions into five essential points.

1.   Accept that conflicts at work are inevitable

Understand that conflict is inevitable and that there is no such thing as “winning”: Kjerulf says“[g]etting the outcome you want regardless of what the other person wants can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that the underlying issue has not been solved.”

2.   Handle conflict sooner rather than later

The price of letting unresolved conflicts continue is high, resulting in hostility, miscommunication, inefficiency, stress and low productivity. All this will make you and your co-workers very unhappy so tackle the problem early.

3.   Ask!

If someone’s actions or words hurt you, ask them (nicely, of course) why they did what they did or said what they said. There might be a logical or at least satisfactory explanation. Don’t assume people do things just to upset you.

4.   Giraffe language

For long-running conflicts, Kjerulf suggests using “giraffe language”:

  • Identify with the other person what you see in neutral, objective terms
  • Apologize for your part in the conflict
  • Praise the other person and tell them why the conflict is worth resolving
  • Explain what the conflict means for you and for the company, and why it is a problem
  • Propose a good outcome
  • Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away.

5.   Mediation

When conflicts become so entrenched and cannot be solved, a third, objective voice can help. This could be a trusted co-worker, manager, business coach or professional mediator.

How to deal with Horrible Bosses

When the source of conflict at work is your manager, the situation is trickier to resolve. A good boss will take on constructive criticism, but as we know not all bosses are good. Kjerulf suggests the following strategies for dealing with a horrible boss.

Assume no bad intentions

Unless proven otherwise, assume your manager does not intend to make you unhappy. He or she might lack emotional intelligence and appreciate advice on how to do better.

Classify your boss

There are three types of bad boss. Classifying him or her will provide you with the best strategy:

  1. Has no idea s/he’s bad: a polite but firm conversation with this kind of boss might be all that’s needed. In fact, pointing out your boss’s s shortcomings is likely to help the whole team, and increased happiness and productivity becomes its own reward.
  2. Knows s/he’s bad and wants to improve: A boss with greater self-awareness who genuinely wants to improve will welcome honest and constructive feedback.
  3. Doesn’t want to know s/he’s bad or doesn’t care: this type of boss is a lost cause especially if his or her line manager is not willing or able to address the manager’s behaviour. If escalating the problem does not result in a good outcome for you, do yourself a kindness and get out.

Address conflict sooner rather than later

Don’t be tempted to wait and hope the relationship will improve with time or your boss will leave. Early action is best.

Choose the right time and place to talk

Arrange a face to face meeting where you won’t be interrupted, and remain calm and professional. Explain how your manager’s behaviour affects you and your work, suggest ways to do things better, and follow up at a later date to review the situation together.

Praise managers when they get it right

You don’t have to be a boss yourself to do this. Most managers will appreciate positive feedback from staff when they get it right.

My personal tips for surviving workplace conflict until it is resolved:

  • Protect your good reputation by behaving well in the face of bad behaviour: remaining calm and professional in the long run enhances your reputation while those who create or prolong conflict will have their own reputation problems later on. Take comfort in the fact you are doing what you can to resolve the conflict.
  • Take good care of yourself: imagine you are your own best friend, treat yourself to flowers and facials (even you guys), and meet up with empathetic friends for lunch or an after-work drink.
  • Leave work problems at work. Your home is your sanctuary from workplace conflict – keep it that way.
  • Where you are being drawn into an untenable situation or feel that you are being provoked / manipulated into behaving badly yourself, as mentioned earlier, don’t hesitate to bring in a trusted co-worker, or manager to a) calm tension b) encourage professionalism or even c) become a witness where and when necessary.
  • If you have decided that there is nothing for it but to leave – do talk to your organisations HR Manager first. They will have a good handle on the organisation’s politics and people and may be able to offer some practical and qualified advice.
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