How to Gracefully Navigate Conflicts at Work

By Robert Half June 7, 2017 at 9:39pm

If you’re lucky, you like and appreciate your colleagues. They’re smart, motivated, generous and a pleasure to work with. (And hopefully they feel the same way about you.)

But not everyone is so fortunate, not even executives. According to a recent Robert Half survey of CFOs, respondents said one of the main things that keeps them up at night is conflict with coworkers or supervisors.

When you frequently share common resources and spend time with other people for 40-plus hours a week, clashes are pretty much inevitable. In worst-case scenarios, you have to involve management. Yet most conflicts don’t need to reach that level. Employers value staff who know how to resolve all sorts of problems — whether professional or interpersonal.

You can be the person in your firm or department who knows how to navigate difficult workplace disputes with diplomacy and professionalism. Here are seven conflict resolution tips to help get you there:

1. Repeat the serenity mantra

You and your fellow employees are not going to see eye to eye on every issue. Whether you have disagreements over politics or work projects, different opinions exist — and that’s okay. Don’t sweat the stuff that doesn’t directly affect work quality, and resolve to accept the annoying things you cannot change.

2. Don’t let tension escalate

Leaving conflicts unresolved typically makes them worse, and the usual result is wasted time and energy. Don’t let arguments get in the way of productivity at work. After calming down and reflecting on the problem, take concrete steps toward getting the relationship back on track. If need be, act like the adult in the room and take action first, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it feels.

3. Reopen lines of communication

When you’re not getting along with someone else or they’re not getting along with you, the first thing that happens is a breakdown in dialogue. While this is a natural reaction, it’s also counterproductive. The best way to resolve a conflict is via effective communication, which is actually a two-pronged approach: speaking and listening. Ask them what’s wrong, then really hear what they have to say. Hopefully the other employee will do the same. Conflicts are never resolved by the silent treatment.

4. Assume good intentions

Some workplace conflicts stem from misunderstandings rather than actual disagreements over fact or policy. For example, people continue using that fancy salad dressing you keep in the employee refrigerator. But rather than being too cheap to buy their own, perhaps they thought it was communal property. So, before you get angry, consider the situation from different points of view. Put simply: don’t jump to conclusions.

5. Be willing to give and take

The word compromise sometimes has a negative connotation. Some people feel that compromising is synonymous with giving in and giving up cherished principles. They struggle to concede even the smallest point. However, diplomacy is based on tradeoffs and finding an acceptable middle ground. Aim to create a win-win situation where both parties walk away gaining something.

6. Let bygones be bygones

When you and the other person come to an understanding, move on and don’t look back. You don’t have to be best friends with people who rub you the wrong way, but you do have to be civil and professional. Life is too short to let grudges fester in the workplace.

7. Know when to involve a third party

Sometimes empathy and dialogue go only so far. If the issue is serious, such as workplace bullying, and you’ve done all you can to resolve it, don’t feel bad about asking management or human resources to recommend a way forward. Effective conflict resolution occasionally requires a mediator. Just be sure to approach management in an even-headed manner — and maintain that throughout the process.

Your workplace is likely made up of various personality types. You will naturally gravitate toward some colleagues and avoid others. The smart move for your career — and sanity — is to not become embroiled in petty problems or workplace politics. And who knows? By having an open mind and spirit, you may even come to appreciate the finer qualities of a former rival.

Looking for more tips on this topic? Download our guide to navigating office politics now!

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