If you’re lucky, you like and appreciate your colleagues. They’re smart, motivated and generous — and if you’re really fortunate, they feel the same way about you. But over the course of your career, you’ll likely find yourself in situations where you need to resolve workplace conflict with coworkers or supervisors, and you’ll need more than luck.
When you share resources and spend time with other people for 40 or more hours a week, some 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 sort out all sorts of problems — whether professional or interpersonal. You can be the person in your firm or department who navigates difficult disputes and sticky situations with diplomacy and professionalism. Here are seven tips to help you resolve workplace conflict.
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 OK. Don’t sweat the small stuff that doesn’t directly affect work quality, and resolve to accept the annoying things you cannot change.
2. Don’t let the tension escalate
Leaving conflicts unresolved typically makes them worse, and the 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.
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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 involving speaking and listening skills. Ask the person what’s wrong, then really hear what they have to say — with the hope the other employee will do the same. Conflicts at work are rarely 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 pricey organic 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 either giving in or 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 help is needed to resolve workplace conflict
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 made up of various personality types. You will naturally gravitate toward some colleagues and away from others. The smart move for your career — and emotional health — 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.