3 Tips for Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace

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Conflict management is a key leadership skill and so many of us are not good at it, but I think to experience conflict is to be human. I’m not saying that it makes us feel comfortable but it is extremely unlikely that we will move through our lives without finding someone with an opinion that is different to ours or a change that is happening that we don’t quite agree with.

In so many cases many of us handle conflict just by avoiding it. However, in all my years of working with executive teams across many organisations, I can say very confidently that I have never seen a conflict get better over time, in fact they mostly get worse.

So here are my top 3 tips for addressing conflict in your workplace:

1. Address the conflict early.

All instances of conflict begin with a feeling of discomfort, like something is not quite right. It could be as simple as a colleague not replying to your greeting in the morning or them not including you in a discussion over lunch that makes you experience some kind of negative emotion. Instead of creating a story about why they are ignoring you or waiting for them to bring it up with you, find a good time to actually ask them. You might find they have something else on their mind and it has nothing to do with you, or you might find that they are actually annoyed with you about something and then you have a chance to address it before it escalates.

2. Deal with the conflict yourself first.

I know it might feel easier to refer a problem on to your supervisor, but if you haven’t done anything about tyring to resolve it first, this strategy can totally backfire by making the event much larger than it actually is. After all, you have all the information about what started the whole thing off. Also,

you are the one experiencing the discomfort so it makes much more sense for you to do something to ease it. Don’t give your power away – the only way you are going to get better at dealing with conflict is through practise. Besides your supervisor is still available to help later on if your attempt is unsuccessful.

3. Get comfortable with managing your emotions around conflict

Often when I ask people about why they have let a conflict continue I am told that they didn’t want to make the situation worse. However, when I ask them if what they are experiencing right now is OK, they usually agree that they are in exactly the place they thought staying silent could help them avoid. Research tells us that we often get emotions wrong. We think that talking about them makes them worse, but in fact the opposite is true. Talking to your colleague about how you felt when they didn’t greet you this morning is a perfect way to open up the conversation.

So, no matter how hard you think it is going to be, tackle that conflict early. Remember – if you are coming from the right place – a genuine desire to find out what is going wrong and doing something about it – you will often resolve conflict early and save yourself from more complex processes down the track.

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