How to avoid workplace conflicts and handle a conflict that may exist
By Dan Moran
At some point in everyone’s career, they will be faced with a workplace conflict – with their boss, co-worker or someone else in the organization. It is estimated that managers spend 25 percent of their time working to resolve workplace conflicts with their employees. For those in the midst of the conflict, it is difficult to manage through—and sucks up time and energy that could be directed to positive outcomes in your job or life.
Workplace conflicts occur for a number of reasons, but are usually rooted in:
• Understanding who should do what–turf battles. So common – and so easy to correct. At times, you may feel that someone else should be performing a task or vice versa. This leads to disconnect in the company and between the two parties.
• Disagreements over how things should be done. Everyone has their own style of getting their job done, and unfortunately, we sometimes feel our way is the only way (and it may not be). Conflicts occur usually when there is a change – new person, new procedure, etc.—that isn’t accepted by one or more people.
• Personality conflicts. You may have heard that opposite personality types attract. Sometimes true, often not. If you take a hard-driving Type A personality and match that person up with a Type D personality (slower and easier pace supporter), there will be conflict.
• Lack of communication. By far, the reason most workplace conflicts occur. Lack of communication between co-workers, departments or the company as a whole, leads to another more dangerous situation – people begin to make assumptions without fact, understanding or the “truth”. People assume they know what others are doing, or assume they know what someone else is thinking when, in reality, it is just the opposite.
How to avoid these conflicts
Preventing conflicts is all about setting expectations and communication. It is not unlike raising children or being in a relationship where understanding the needs of your significant other is critical to getting along and growing together. The same goes for the workplace, but on a different level.
Address issues before they become problems. Handling issues on the job as they occur, and before they get out of hand (usually through making assumptions), is a huge step in avoiding conflict. It might be a bit uncomfortable to confront the issue, but in the long run will help avoid a costly conflict.
Handle issues directly and face-to-face if at all possible. Please do not “battle” by email and never, never “flame” someone in email (flaming is using all capital letters or inflammatory words in email) as you cannot see the other person and measure their response. I have also learned a very valuable lesson about email—if you exchange three emails on a subject without understanding, pick up the phone or go visit the other party to open communication.
Define your expectations
Clearly defining what you expect to do – and what others are expected to do – sets the stage for mutual respect and understanding. If you do not understand clearly what is expected of you or how your work will be evaluated, ask your manager directly and clear any confusion.
As a manager, I was almost compulsive in setting my team members’ expectations from the start – even putting them in writing. This way, there was never a question in their mind over my expectations, and their expectations of me.
Listen – listen – and then listen more. Have you ever been in a situation where you just knew the person you were communicating with just didn’t get it? That they were not listening? As a result, two-way communication does not occur and there is disconnect.
Learn to be an effective listener. Give the person your full attention and listen intently to what they are saying. Ask questions if you don’t understand, but give them the floor. Through careful listening, you will learn about what is expected, issues that may need to be resolved or how you may be disconnected from someone else.
Manage your reactions. We all overreact in some situations – it’s just human nature. In the workplace, it is important to manage your reactions. It is best to listen, evaluate and plan a response or action, rather than just react.
Bite your tongue. If you think you should keep your mouth closed, follow your instinct! Sometimes the least said the better.
What if the company you are with thrives on conflict?
Yes, there are companies that seem to thrive on having conflicts between people or departments. If you find yourself in this type of situation, it is time to move on and work elsewhere.
Close to 80 percent of our waking time is spent on the job. It is important that that time be energizing, productive and personally fulfilling. Try to avoid conflicts at any cost, but if one does pop up, handle it the right way.
Dan Moran is president & founder of Next-Act, a career management & transition firm located in Colonie. He specializes in helping people make career choices and seek new jobs. He is also a Certified Facilitator for Get Hired Now! and Get Clients Now! Programs, which help those in career transition and companies get results. You can reach him at 641.8968 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.next-act.com.