For those who went to traditional college, do you remember what it was like sharing a room with your new roommate in your freshman year? For most people, it was an amazing discovery into the nuances of another person’s life and experience—or not. What preparation did you receive for that experience of sharing life with someone who you didn’t know at all?  The closest thing many of us would have experienced would have been sharing a room with a sibling. The advantage there was that we knew the person growing up, and we would have a relationship with them for the rest of our lives.

office-conflictThe reality of dealing with someone we don’t know at all can be quite an adjustment.

And so it is with our office work environment. We don’t get to pick and choose who we work with, nor do we grow up with them. So, overlay that with different work and communication styles, a nice smattering of attitude and ego, sifting in a few tablespoons of stress and deadlines and what can pop up? Conflict!

I’ve yet to run across an office handbook that states how office workers are to deal with conflict.  That is probably a good thing. Given the millions of raw ingredients that can combine to create conflict, let’s take a look at 5 ways that conflict can be managed and handled in constructive ways:

  1. Reframe it! Most people that I know assign a negative connotation to conflict. Does it need to be that way? Many times conflict can push us into growth, new ways of doing things, new levels of understanding of one another. What would happen if you reframed the sense of conflict into an opportunity for one of the positive outcomes above?
  2. See(k) Agreement. Actively seek out areas where you agree with another party when you are experiencing conflict. We largely agree more with one another than we disagree. When you see that the the current disagreement is a small portion of your work experience with the other person, you realize that the disagreement and conflict doesn’t need to necessarily create relational distance and dysfunction.
  3. Insert civility. We know that the myriad of experiences that any of us have in our lives are our own personal journey. Could it be that the person that you are dealing with just got some incredibly bad news? Is it possible that they had a fight with their spouse prior to coming to work?  Giving people the benefit of the doubt and attempting to understand their experience can inject civility into your approach and discussions.
  4. Learn something. So much of the conflict we experience is less about each party intentionally trying to aggravate one another and more about very different work styles. I’m amazed at how quickly understanding, empathy, enhanced communication and listening can happen when teams learn something about one another. As teams utilize assessments and tools like Myers Briggs, Predictive Index, Strengthsfinders (among many others), they increase their competency and capability to “get along” as well as to value differences in others.
  5. Step away from your “position.” Conflicts frequently emerge from entrenched positions. A favorite question to ask my clients is, “would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  Think about that one. It tends to focus people on the long term of how they want to show up in life, which battles are worth fighting, and focuses them on their choices vs. the other person’s behaviors.

For those who would like to move toward mastery of conflict, I highly recommend the book Crucial Confrontations.

Give us your feedback. How have you handled office conflict? What tips would you add?

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