You’ve finally found a job you love, doing something that actually interests you. However, there might be a certain someone ruining the atmosphere and stopping you from enjoying your job as much as you should. You’ve tried to ignore the problem, but it’s like ignoring an elephant in the room and instead of going away, it just seems to be getting worse. It’s important to understand that conflict is inevitable in the workplace and is a result of engaged, passionate employees - so there is an upside.
There are many reasons why conflict can arise at work, a few of which include:
- Competitiveness (or being constantly compared)
- Lack of equality (salary, favouritism)
- Personality clashes
- Bad attitude
You may have tried to ignore the issue by keeping your head down and avoiding your colleague as much as possible. However, you will soon realise that this technique doesn't work and that, unfortunately, your animosity towards them is growing. Not only has it become a problem for you, but also those around you. Unresolved conflict in the workplace is damaging, especially for the company. It can eventually lead to:
- A breakdown in communications
- Inefficient teams
- Reduced productivity
- Demotivated, unhappy employees
- Worthwhile employees deciding to abandon ship
Conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be something negative, and can actually redefine boundaries. If handled correctly, it can become a learning opportunity. Conflict is often a result of bad communication: 90% of conflict is caused by what is left unsaid, not because of what was said. Transparency is therefore the key when it comes to resolving conflict, and you owe it to those around you to confront the problem before it is too late. Resolving conflict isn’t always easy and will require compromise, forgiveness, empathy and a willingness to listen to others. If you possess these qualities, it’s time to take action. Below are 6 steps to help you resolve conflict at work:
Deal with conflict ASAP, before it gets any worse. Burying your head in the sand won't help matters, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to be courageous and address the problem.
Ask the colleague you’re having problems with about their actions - it could actually be that simple! You can say almost anything if you say it nicely and word it properly. For example, “I noticed that you bring up X often, I was wondering why?”. As we mentioned previously, most problems are a direct result of bad communication. Your colleague may simply be unaware of the problem and politely bringing it to their attention could be enough to resolve the matter.
It's time to talk. If asking politely wasn't enough, it’s time to talk to your colleague properly, and that doesn’t mean a quick chat by the coffee machine. Ask if they are available for a quick meeting and set a time and date. Once you’ve done this, the worst is over! (That’s if they agreed, if they didn’t, good luck.)
Giraffe language/nonviolent communication. You should take time to prepare for your meeting and use a technique known as “Giraffe language”. This is a nonviolent way of addressing problems without directly accusing the person your colleague. When we have an issue with someone, it is easy to accuse them. Unfortunately, instead of resolving matters, it will lead to the other person feeling threatened and therefore becoming defensive. Avoid using accusatory sentences such as, “Jeremy, I don’t understand why you keep criticising my ideas in front of everyone, it’s demoralising and you make me feel stupid in front of our colleagues”. Instead, try to shift the focus onto yourself. In the vast majority of cases, one person is rarely solely responsible for conflict. Admit your responsibility in the situation and apologise. You can then start using language that involves both parties, employing the word “we”. For example, “I’ve noticed that during meetings we don’t take the time to listen to each other's ideas and end up arguing, which isn’t very fair on our colleagues.” Show that the conflict not only affects both of you, but also other colleagues and therefore the company. It’s then important to ask whether or not they agree with your observations what their opinion is.
Show appreciation for your colleague by complimenting their work, even though it may be difficult: resolving conflict means making sacrifices. This will allow you to move forward and rebuild bridges. This could also be a useful exercise to practice with your team on a regular basis. Giving co-workers compliments boosts motivation and collaboration, both of which are vital for productivity.
Make a plan of action. If both parties are ready to accept responsibility and make an effort, it’s time to put your ideas into action. Think of a few concrete ways you can improve your areas of conflict. This could come in the form of an agreement that you will give say something positive about the other’s idea during meetings, providing constructive criticism rather than negativity. If these steps don’t work and the conflict continues, it may be time to ask for outside help. This could be someone from HR, a colleague from a different team or even a coach, whose external point of view could shed light on the problems at hand and provide solutions. If none of this works, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing you tried! Remember to control your emotions, avoid overreacting and jumping straight into confrontation just for the sake of it. It's important to choose your battles wisely using your own personal judgement. Transparency is key when it comes to resolving conflict, so try to be as honest and fair as possible.