Managing Conflict

Conflict is a normal part of life. You are only sometimes going to agree with everyone. Harvard Business Review says that most people respond to conflict collaboration incorrectly. They focus on the symptoms rather than the root cause. You can only improve collaboration once you have addressed the issue.

For example, in a case study, Sarah and Joe had some restructuring within their organization and found themselves sharing an office. These two coworkers have had a complicated history. Sarah chose to eat her lunch at her desk while working on a deadline. Joe said he didn’t eat meat, and would she refrain from eating her food in their office? Sarah replied that she was on a deadline and remained at her desk. She went to the water cooler to refill her water bottle. Joe decided to go for a walk and tripped over a cord that toppled a lamp, knocking Sarah’s lunch to the floor. When Sarah returned to the office, she saw Joe picking up her lunch, and Joe did not have the opportunity to explain it was an accident.

In this case study, several things’ issues are occurring. First, Joe could have communicated better that the smell of meat nauseated him. Second, Sarah might have hoped Joe would volunteer to help her meet the deadline. All of these, however, are just surface issues over the underlying problem of the real issue. So why did Sarah and Joe not get along? 

A survey of 2000 workers indicated that relationships were the top source of tension on the job. Therefore, we need to learn how to resolve conflict effectively. Steven Covey teaches in 7 Habits of Highly Effective people that we need to develop empathetic listening, which means that we need to listen to understand before we speak to be understood.

  1. Remember that your perspective is one of many. Everyone’s individual experiences shape our perspectives. There is not necessarily a right or a wrong. For example, do you see the young or old woman in the image? Both perspectives are correct.
  2. Be aware of your biases. Human nature is that we judge others when we do not have all the information.
  3. Do not make it “me against them.” Your work environment has many different personalities, and it is not about your ego or theirs. Keep the ‘Why” as the goal.
  4. Avoid venting and gossiping. When frustrated, we sometimes feel the need to vent to others. Even worse is venting and spreading gossip within and outside of the workplace.

Tools for Conflict Resolution:

  1. Stay Calm
  2. Listen to Understand
  3. Accentuate the positive (let go of the past)
  4. Be respectful when presenting a conflicting view
  5. Attack the problem, not the person
  6. Find a way to compromise.

We cannot avoid conflict, but how we resolve it is in our control.