Boss Lady

How to face up to conflict at work


What’s worse that conflict in the workplace? Unresolved conflict. Bottling up the feelings you get from workplace injustice, incompetence, or disrespect can lead to stress, health problems, and reduced productivity – not to mention the ongoing professional damage being done by whatever the contentious issue is.

On the other hand, confronting the person with whom you have a problem can lead to creative outcomes, and inspire those around you to take care more care of your office culture, too.

Knowing all this doesn’t make confrontation easy. There are plenty of reasons you might avoid that conflict. Maybe it’s simply that conflict makes you nervous. Or perhaps that feeling is hidden beneath other factors. You might not want to draw attention to yourself or to risk becoming unpopular. But if you have a good reason to speak up, then your colleagues will learn to respect you in the long run.

Perhaps you’re waiting for someone else to deal with the problem. But you have to work to create the kind of office culture you want. When everybody is waiting for somebody else to make an improvement, complacency grows. This is how offices slowly become the kind of place where no-one feels like turning up.

Or you may be filled with worries and doubts. You can only see a negative outcome to standing up for yourself. But the longer you wait, the more that negativity’s going to eat you up. Difficult environments require bold actions to engender change.

If you find yourself reluctant to stand up to a dispute, you can make things easier on yourself and nurture improved outcomes if you follow a handful of proven techniques.

Your first step is to face up to the issue personally. You know you’re angry – but why precisely are you angry? What caused the problem that caused the problem – and why is it a problem? Figure out exactly what it is you want from a resolution and where you’re prepared to compromise, and you will enter the room more confidently with your own clear parameters.

And then turn the conflict outwards. Think about the other person’s point of view – what they want, why they behave the way they do, and whether it is reasonable. An issue such as differing ideas on working processes may attract equally strong but mutually incompatible ideas. Unless the other person’s behavior is plain out of line, keep respect for their ideas at the forefront of your mind.

Finding the right time to have this meeting is important. If you let the situation simmer, it will likely rise to boiling point when you least expect it. But don’t go blazing in straight away: make sure you’re ready to say everything you need to say, and make sure to find a window in which they have time to properly focus on the conversation. You might wait for a chance to practice with a friend or partner so you have confidence in how the words sound out loud and your ability to develop your argument as a dialogue.

When you step up to confront them, you should frame your argument clearly and openly in terms of what the issue is, how it effects you, and how serious it is. Stick to the facts, and when it is your feelings or opinions that matter – try to back them up with facts where possible. This not only makes your argument stronger, it convinces your colleague to listen to you.

You need to listen, too. Hear what your colleague has to say, and quiet your own mind while you do so rather than start cooking up counter-arguments before they’ve finished. Don’t be rushed: if you need a moment to process, say so.

A confrontation like this isn’t necessarily something you have to “win”. It may result in a compromise, or become the beginning of a healthy ongoing dialogue. But if you’re demonstrably correct in your position, being armed with a strategy can help you to right those wrongs.

For a run down of what you can do to improve your approach, check out this new visual guide from NetCredit. And then go about making the workplace a better place to be – for you and your colleagues.

How to face up to conflict at work

About John Cole

John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

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