Conflict Resolution

No two people think the same, and with this, issues in the workplace can arise. Perhaps this could be caused from workplace gossip, a poor boss/employee relationship, jealousy caused by a promotion, a co-worker who seems to slack off, a misunderstanding…the list goes on and on. An issue does not, by definition, become a conflict until the thoughts, opinions, or beliefs are expressed. Conflicts in and of themselves are not always destructive. We need conflicting ideas and beliefs in order to make improvements and continue to better the “norm.” However, when issues and conflicts are destructive in the workplace, they can affect one’s work performance as well as his or her mental health and overall well-being. Therefore, conflict in the workplace is an issue that needs to be addressed, so that the involved parties can learn from it, become better employees, co-workers, or employers, and maintain their wellness.

Most often, conflicts arise because of a miscommunication. As most of us prefer to ignore conflict and confrontation, we have difficulty with communicating with a colleague or employer when we have a problem with something. If we were more honest and open, issues and workplace drama could be avoided or greatly diminished in intensity. With this in mind, when approaching someone about a problem, it is important to be in a state of mind where you truly wish to resolve the conflict so that both parties can benefit. If you are still upset that someone got a promotion over you, you are likely to attack, rather than calmly ask what you could do differently in the future to be more competitive for a promotion.

Therefore communication is essential. For the best results, use direct communication. If you have a problem with Sally because she keeps stealing your food out of the break room fridge, go directly to Sally to discuss the conflict. Do not use indirect communication and complain to your co-worker Diane that Sally is out to get you. Chances are Sally was not maliciously trying to steal your food and make you go hungry all day—maybe she brought the same thing for lunch or meant to ask you if she could have your apple as a snack today and she would bring one for you tomorrow. If you discuss the issue with Sally, you can hear her intent from her directly.

Next, use “I” statements to explain your point of view. For example, you could say to Sally, “I noticed that my apple was missing from the fridge. Did you accidently grab it?” This way Sally will not feel attacked and become defensive. If you approach her and say “You are a thief! What have you done with my apple?” Sally will become defensive and you will never get to the bottom of your issue.

Then, actively listen to what the other person has to say. It is important to not interrupt them as they speak so that they can clearly and effectively communicate their point of view. As they are speaking, try to empathize with the person and understand their thought process behind their beliefs and actions. Lastly after the other person is finished explaining, summarize their main points and recap them back to the person to insure you understand what he or she is saying.

Each party should continue to ask questions so that a full under standing of the other person’s point of view is had by both parties. Then, develop a plan of action and execute that plan. For example, you could decide with Sally that if she were ever to take food of yours from the break room fridge in the future, she would ask your permission first and also make sure to replace it. This step is often forgotten, but after some time, follow up to make sure your decided plan of action is effective for both parties and to insure the conflict has truly been resolved.

Clearly there are much more serious conflicts in the workplace than Sally taking your food; this was just a simple example used for clarity. As much as most of us do not enjoy dealing with conflict in the workplace, it will arise, so it is important that we each understand how to best deal with it. This will allow you to improve your communication skills, see someone else’s point of view, and most importantly feel more productive and mentally present at work. The next time a petty act happens, try to step back from the situation and think is this deserving of conflict resolution? Perhaps you did not need to approach Sally until after a few offenses. However, if a more serious issue arises, apply the steps given above and work with the other person to resolve the issue and create a more harmonious workplace environment.  Work is stressful enough; we need to work together to make the workplace enjoyable for everyone and maintain each person’s well-being.

By Natalie Radloff

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