How to Resolve Conflict at Work

Updated on November 21, 2016
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Sally is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky clean and drama-free.

Are you dealing with difficult personalities at work? Learn more about how to resolve conflict in the workplace using a collaborative framework.

Identify common goals to reduce conflict and keep everyone on the same page.

When it comes to resolving conflict at work, taking a collaborative approach will result in more winners than losers. In fact, when teams collaborate, there are no losers because the ultimate goal of collaboration is to achieve win-win results.
When it comes to resolving conflict at work, taking a collaborative approach will result in more winners than losers. In fact, when teams collaborate, there are no losers because the ultimate goal of collaboration is to achieve win-win results.

What issues do you think cause the most conflict at work?

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How do you get teams to work together and collaborate? Here's a step-by-step process to help guide you and your team through a healthy, rewarding collaborative process when tension arises in the workplace.

1. Start by identifying the source of the conflict. What is the real source of the problem? Conflict can arise due to misunderstandings, conflicting end-goals, or different communication styles. Try to find out what the real issues are at the heart of the conflict before you start in on trying to solve the problem. For example, when you try to find the cause of the conflict, you may find out that not everyone had the same information to work with and that's when the problem started.

2. Give everyone a chance to speak. Effectively resolving conflict requires a commitment to communicate openly without assigning blame to individuals. By giving people a chance to speak about their concerns, it is important that the ground-rules are clear; name-calling, accusations and blame will not be tolerated. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to speak for roughly the same length of time. One party shouldn’t be allowed to railroad the conversation or make other group members feel uncomfortable.

3. Listen. Remind everyone that listening is just as important as speaking. Resolving conflict in the workplace is impossible if people are always talking but never listening to each other. It may help to appoint one person to transcribe in point form what each person's concerns are. Having a succinct list of all the various concerns will help with the next step in the collaborative problem-solving process.

4. Using neutral language, identify areas of disagreement. Using your list of issues created in steps 1, 2, and 3, identify the key items that are the source of the disagreement. Help all parties identify the most important issues that are causing concern and commit to working on those issues first. Focus on what is going on in the hear and now. What issues have the parties come to resolve today. Bringing up past grievances and disputes should be discouraged. Keep the team focused on the present.

5. Identify areas of mutual agreement. Once all the items that team members disagree on, turn the discussion towards exploring what people do agree on. Areas of agreement could be related to shared goals, mutual interests and values and beliefs.

6. Do some brainstorming. Invite everyone to develop a list of solutions to the conflict by facilitating a brainstorming session.

7. Come to a consensus on the best solution for everyone. Review each possible solution on the list and evaluate each one. Rule out the solutions that are not acceptable at all. Keep evaluating the list and continue refining it until the group agrees upon one solution.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

— Andrew Carnegie

Once the workplace conflict has been resolved, be sure to end the team meeting on a positive note. Thank everyone for their participation and express your hope for the future of the organization as everyone works with renewed interest and enthusiasm towards a common goal.

Remember these main points when you're trying to resolve conflict in the workplace.

  • Remain calm. Breathe. Avoid raising your voice.
  • Don’t take things personally. As difficult to do as this may sound, remind yourself that the verbal criticism isn’t actually about you. It is about how the person is reacting to their perceptions of your behavior at the moment.
  • Be mindful of your body language. Make sure that your body language is also non-defensive when you are responding to criticism at work. Don’t cross your arms or turn away from your critic. Maintaining eye-contact to show that you are listening. Defensive body language such as eye-rolling, smirking, or avoiding eye contact will likely cause your opponent to double down on the criticism if he thinks he is being ignored. Make sure to nod, quietly acknowledge the speakers comments with soft words and phrases such as “Yes” or “I see” to show that you are tuned in what the speaker is saying.
  • Be respectful. Even when someone is yelling and screaming at you, you have an opportunity to appeal to their humanity by acknowledging that the person is upset and that you are willing to try and resolve the issue (within reason, of course). If the abusive behavior doesn’t stop you may have to walk away from the attack until the other person calms down. Remember, you are not responsible for how other people behave, you are only responsible for your behavior.

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

— Henry Ford

In summary, to resolve conflict at work remind team members how much they have in common and how, in reality, everyone really is working towards a common goal: serving the organization to the best of each person’s abilities.

Article source material: Resolving Conflict, The Leadership Excellence Series, Toastmasters International

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

© 2016 Sally Hayes

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