5 tips on handling conflicts in the workplace

Difficult situations at work, conflicting interests or unpleasant behavior from colleagues. Disagreements in the workplace are inevitable. Ideally, you want to have the conversation, but how do you do it without damaging the relationship? Or worse, without making your colleague angry or upset? Here are 5 tips for conflict management.

Definition of conflict

What exactly is a conflict and when do you consider it a conflict? We often associate this word with a discussion, an argument, or a disagreement that has escalated to a point where it seems impossible to resolve. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Try to look at a conflict from a positive angle. By doing so, you lower your expectations of how difficult it will be.

Consider disagreements or differences of opinion as a necessary and healthy way to improve the relationship and cooperation between you and your colleague. Always enter the conversation with the intention of finding a solution together.

Some conflicts are more challenging than others. When dealing with a sensitive topic that can excite both parties, it’s important to approach it carefully. How can you approach a conversation without letting it escalate unnecessarily?

#1 Keep it within the team

Going directly to the manager with a conflict will undermine your colleague’s position. Keep it peer-to-peer. This approach creates respect, trust and an open atmosphere that contributes to finding solutions. If the conflict can be resolved without involving the manager, then do it!

If you are a manager and receive a complaint from an employee about another colleague, always check that everything has been done to resolve the issue internally within the team before intervening and mediating.

#2 Define the problem

Before entering the conflict, you must clearly understand what you want to achieve with the conversation and how you got to this point. First, make the problem clear and specific to yourself. Choose a moment when the emotions are not overwhelming. This allows you to calmly identify where the problem lies. It is important to minimize negative thoughts that can easily cloud your judgment.

What is the ideal result? Try to visualize it beforehand and give yourself something positive to strive for during the conversation.

#3 Choose neutral ground

You have probably experienced a situation like this yourself: Being called into an office or a meeting room. Do you remember what you felt? Were you carefree and relaxed, or did you walk in with a pounding heart and a knot in your stomach?

The place where the conversation takes place matters. Avoid formal meetings whenever possible and choose e.g. a cup of coffee in a neutral but screened area. When everyone feels comfortable and at ease, there is less risk of fear or emotional reactions.

#4 Balance emotions and logic

You have found a neutral and informal place for a conversation and have a clear understanding of the problem. How do you approach the conversation? The key is to find the perfect balance between your logical and emotional sense. When there is too much of any of this, it often leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion for both parties. Therefore, make sure to be as clear and factual as possible, while also taking your own and your colleague’s feelings into account.

Be aware that each situation requires a different mindset. Adapt accordingly and remember that a purely factual approach does not take into account the feelings and needs of your colleagues.

#5 Always strive for empathy

Putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are raising the disagreement with is one method of achieving a peaceful resolution. Listen carefully to the reasons and circumstances the other person shares and take them into consideration when formulating a solution. When you do this, both parties will feel heard and understood.

Finding a solution together is the goal
What often happens in long-term conflicts in the workplace is that you lose sight of what you want to achieve. The goal should always be to find a solution rather than simply discussing a problem that may arise again later.

A good solution must be appropriate and feasible for both parties. So don’t just propose a solution, but work together to decide how you will move toward it. Don’t set deadlines for when the change needs to be implemented, but let the other person know that you will support them along the way. Make it clear that you are available for questions and advice. In this way, you also prevent future conflicts.

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