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Published on December 3, 2018

11 Tips on How to Resolve (Almost) Any Conflict in the Workplace

11 Tips on How to Resolve (Almost) Any Conflict in the Workplace

It takes a lot to lead people who have the same desire, dream, and vision. It is even more challenging to lead transformation and change in people who are deeply entrenched in tradition and have a rigid way of thinking. As a result, it is not uncommon for conflict to arise in the marketplace due to a difference in opinion and communication styles.

However, not all conflicts in the workplace are bad.

Healthy conflicts are good. An absence of conflict is an indication that critical thinking and a quest to question existing processes is missing in the organization. It is a huge red flag that suggests every thought or behavior is heavily moderated by someone or some people who hate criticism of any kind.

But what happens when things go awry and no one is listening at all? How do you get back on track, strengthen weakened relationships, and resolve conflicts before they become catastrophic to the entire organization?

Here are 11 tips on how to resolve almost any conflict in the workplace:

1. Identify an Outcome for the Resolution

The very first thing you need to determine as you head into a conflict resolution meeting is what you want to achieve.

Unlike most relationships, not all conflict resolutions in the workplace end with hugs, handshakes, and selfies. With that said, your approach to conflict is going differ depending on the outcome you want to achieve and/or your personality type.

There are different types of approaches to conflict resolution. They are:

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  • Collaborative: In the collaborative approach, both parties aren’t burning bridges or trying to drive the other to ruin. Instead, they mutually work together to discover best practices and solutions to problems they experience.
  • Avoidance: This is very self-explanatory. With this approach, you ignore whispers, grunts, comments, and anything deemed offensive. Although the avoidance approach is not advised, it’s best used when stakes are very low and the relationships between both parties isn’t going to deteriorate.
  • Accommodation: With this approach, you’re considering the other party’s needs as more important than yours at the moment, and are willing to let them “win” in order to arrive to a peaceful solution. As this approach suggests, there is yielding from one party in the attempt to please the other.
  • Compromise. Compromise means each side gets to make mutual concessions and are willing to work together to come up with mutually pleasing outcome to both sides. With this approach, there is no loser as individuals or corporations strive for a balance with their demands.

So, the results of your resolution really depends on the degree of conflict, the type of conflict, and the outcome you want.

A disagreement between a company’s employees who belong to a union and the company’s management will take on a different approach from an interpersonal conflict between two employees in the same department. The stakes and outcomes are different which means there might be a combination of 2 or more styles of approaches to conflict.

2. Set Some Rules

The old adage that says it takes years to build relationships but few moments to ruin them is true. As a result, there are rules for how to approach conflict resolution. It doesn’t matter how minor the conflict is, you need to set some rules for how to approach resolution.

Rules are not meant to be constraints; rather, they help you operate within the boundaries of strengths which often lead to favorable outcomes. When managing conflict among co-workers, it helps to have a set of standards that everyone adheres to.

It’s not just this; rules provide a sense of security and and an assurance of fairness, something that is very much a contradiction to conflict in the first place.

Examples of such rules (depending on the degree of conflict) include: asking employees to temporarily step away from their positions, restricting authority granted to employees, or subjecting all parties involved to a formal, linear process towards resolution.

3. Invest in Your Communication and Listening Skills

Conflict resolution depends on your ability to not only hear what’s been said but also to decipher the nuances of words, body language, ‘sighs,’ and even silence. Add in several variables like religion, cultural background, ethnicity, gender, and economic differences and you have a complex case of epic misunderstandings.

This means that what an employee born in the United States finds assertive might be totally inappropriate for someone who was born and raised in a different country.

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Your excellent communication and listening skills will enable you to step away from the societal norms, break away from patterns that pigeonhole your decision-making skills, and open you up to different perspectives so that you can identify cues for repairing strained relationships.

4. Hold Face-To-Face Meetings

Whenever you can, always aim for a face-to-face meeting. It is challenging to convey emotions in emails because the effect of nonverbal communication is lost behind computer screens and mobile phones.

When it comes to resolving conflict, we don’t just speak and hope for the best to happen because we intend them that way. We engage all aspects of nonverbal communication. Things like tone, vocal range, micro expressions, and body language can communicate more than a simple “I apologize” in the body of an email.

5. Avoid Personal Attacks

While there could be intense emotional response to not being heard, it is important that personal attacks be discouraged and refrained from during the process of conflict resolution. Rather than result to ad hominem attacks, you should adopt a better way to communicate your feelings.

Examples of how to do this includes emphasizing the use of I-messages. With I-messages, you’re taking control of the dialogue and how the behavior made you feel. So, instead of saying “You are so rude!” when addressing conflict, a better way to communicate your displeasure without diminishing how you feel would be “I feel disrespected when you chew your gum loudly while I’m teaching in class.”

I-messages not only caters to your emotional needs, it encourages you to take responsibility by acknowledging how your actions could have contributed to the breakdown in the relationship.

6. Avoid Assigning Blame

Similar to the point above, assigning blame or taking sides is one sure way to dissolve a relationship faster than repairing one. It is human to find fault in something or someone other than ourselves. However, the goal of conflict resolution is to reduce the likelihood of shouting matches of who’s to blame and this starts by taking responsibility.

In an article by Make a dent Leadership, two types of stories in any conflict are identified:[1]

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One is the story we tell ourselves to justify what’s happening, and the second story is one you tell yourself about others.

These stories can either put you under a blameless spotlight or label others in a negative light. But for conflict resolution to take place, assigning blame is not an option.

7. Hire an External Mediator

Sometimes conflict is so intense that both parties can’t seem to find a middle ground. That’s okay. In this case, it is worth it to hire an external mediator. A mediator is someone who is trained in the areas of conflict management, negotiation, and is a skilled facilitator for many cases.

According to the American Bar Association, a mediator is often needed when settlements are at a stall.[2] Not only is a mediator often required by the court sometimes, it is also less expensive and doesn’t involve a drawn-out process a normal trial would.

8. Find Common Ground

Finding common ground means searching for ideas, interests, and beliefs that are shared between opposing parties and using this to open the lines of communication for further negotiation.

This sounds easy but is actually quite challenging to put to practice. If it were this easy, there would be no reports of conflict between people, corporations, and nations.

However, when everything else fails, finding common ground can be the very thing that brings opposing parties back to the table to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution.

9. Stick to the Facts

It’s easy to fall into the trap of digging up events that happened days, months, or years ago in an attempt to shift blame to a different party. But this only makes things worse.

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No matter how tempting it is to emphasize how emotionally hurt a behavior made your feel, the goal of conflict resolution is to focus on the facts instead of the interpretation of it.

For instance, if somone stepped on your toes while she was on her way to her cubicle, it should be stated as “Sarah stepped on my toes” not “Sarah tried to get be angry this morning.” This anger is an emotional response, an emotion you control, not Sarah.

10. Identify Barriers Preventing Change from Happening

According to HR Daily Advisor, identifying barriers to change helps you define what can be changed, what can’t, and how you can get around these roadblocks.[3] Organizations can hire the best mediators or personal development experts but until they recognize and address the barriers preventing change, all efforts to settle differences will fail.

Just like you can’t treat or administer medications without having a medical diagnosis, you can’t begin to change processes and ideas without unraveling why there is friction between both parties.

11. Initiate a Conflict Management Policy

Not every conflict should degenerate into a full-blown newsworthy affair. But in order to maintain an atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding in the workplace, there needs to be a documentation of acceptable behavior and steps to take should interpersonal conflict get out of hand.

These predictions of behaviors or expectations are usually contained in documents also known as policies or employee handbooks.

A conflict management policy is a lighthouse that helps you navigate disagreement of varying levels and stakes, and an organization should never be left without one.

The Bottom Line

It is perfectly normal to experience conflict. Healthy conflict inspires growth and innovation while drawing out the gifts inside of you. The key is to recognize the shift from health to unhealthy and begin the steps to restore a balance to existing relationships.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Margaret Olatunbosun

Creative coach who teaches high-achievers how to thrive at the intersection of creativity, passion, and profit.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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