Advertising
Advertising

Published on September 18, 2019

7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work

7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work

Interpersonal conflicts happen in all areas of our lives and work is no different. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have conflict. As a matter of fact, most people with expertise in communication between humans will tell you conflict can be a good thing. The key is to be able to deal with it in the right way.

If you can’t work through a conflict to resolution, it only serves to become a road block. Having the ability to work through conflict in a meaningful manner can have many positive results. The trick of course is having some rules and ways of working through it to conclusion. With that being said, we will look at the different types of personal conflict, their causes and 7 ground rules for dealing with interpersonal conflict at work in this article.

What Is an Interpersonal Issue?

Let’s clear up something that may cause some confusion. From time to time, I hear or read about the terms interpersonal issue and interpersonal conflict. Really, they mean pretty much the same thing so when you hear one term instead of the other, don’t let it confuse you.

In the broader sense, an interpersonal conflict is a disagreement in some manner between 2 or more people. The disagreement can be physical, mental, or emotional.

Since we are talking about interpersonal conflict at work, it’s a good idea to expand this a little bit. When interpersonal conflict happens in the workplace, it can reduce productivity and make a dent in morale. At work, it takes on the shape that one person, or a group of people, frustrates or hampers another person or groups efforts at achieving a goal. This isn’t always done on purpose as we will see. Nonetheless, it can be very frustrating and cause a lot of inefficiencies.

Types of Interpersonal Conflict

Let’s take a look at the types of interpersonal conflicts.

Policy Conflicts

Policy conflicts are disagreements about how to deal with a situation that affects both parties. This happens in a variety of situations. Let’s say you and a coworker are assigned to complete a project together. When you sit down to figure out the best way to complete the project, it becomes apparent you think one way is best and your coworker feels another method is better.

In looking at a situation outside of work an easy one is in a marriage. Maybe you think you and your spouse should be saving 10% towards retirement and your spouse thinks 5% is plenty. These are examples of policy conflicts. Many times, you can come to a win-win type outcome where everyone gets most of what they want with a little compromise.

Value Conflicts

Everybody has a different set of values. You may have values that are very close to someone else’s but, we each have our own specific set of values. Sometimes, when you have an ongoing argument with someone, it’s easy to think they are being stubborn. Normally, the underlying reason is because they feel strongly about something due to their values.

Advertising

In your home life, you might think it’s best to raise your kids a certain way and your spouse feels differently. At work, maybe your boss thinks it’s okay to set up a form of payment for referred revenue and you think that isn’t the way to do business. Value conflicts are typically pretty difficult to resolve because they are more ingrained.

Ego Conflicts

Ego conflicts are pretty tough as well. In this situation, losing an argument, or being thought of as wrong, can actually damage a person’s self-esteem. This is like a power struggle.

Let’s say you feel your spouse almost always picks where you go out to dinner. This seems to happen to the point that you feel you are losing power in the relationship because it seems like they always make the decision. So instead of letting your spouse continue to pick what restaurant you eat at, you almost always end up arguing about where to eat.

It’s easy to see this type of conflict happening at work. Think about all the times you were asked to do something you don’t really want to do. You don’t want to feel like you are getting taken advantage of, so you find someway to dodge the work, put it on someone else, or simply ignore the request.

What Causes Interpersonal Conflict?

There’s a long list of what can cause interpersonal conflict. Since we are focusing on our work environment, let’s look at the 5 major causes of interpersonal conflict in the workplace.

Frustration and Stress

People who feel stressed and frustrated at work tend to have more conflicts. People are simply more irritable and can get on each other’s nerves much easier than other times.

The best course of action begins with being aware of the situation. When you see that your coworkers are frustrated, see what you can do to lower the stress level. Exceptional managers are very good at this. They can remove roadblocks and frustrations for their team.

Misunderstandings

Do you remember what they say when you assume something right? It’s always best to get clarity around an issue if you aren’t clear on what the expectations are. Were you supposed to follow up with Bill regarding next steps on the project or was I?

Misunderstandings are easy to come by. A huge area that can cause interpersonal conflict due to misunderstandings is having different expectations on a job, role, process, or anything work related.

Advertising

Lack of Planning

This one is all too common as well. Many companies or departments within companies work by crisis. That is they don’t really have plans for many things, they simply react to crisis situations.

Things never seem to improve because they don’t put in a process for how to make something better. They are too busy running around like their hair is on fire. And when the fire is out, they relax for a day or two until the next fire breaks out. This can cause a lot of conflict and finger pointing.

Bad Staff Selection

This really shows up in 2 areas:

First of all in the initial hiring process. When someone gets hired into a role and isn’t really doing what they were hired to do, someone else has to pick up the slack. You can bet the people picking up the slack are going to get angry and resentful sooner rather than later.

The other area this affects is on teams. Some people naturally gravitate to doing more than their portion while others tend to do less than their fair share. Both sides can rub people the wrong way and create conflict.

Poor Communication

I saved my favorite topic for last here. Poor communication can lead to so many problems. Interpersonal conflict at work is a big one. I’m sure you can think of many examples of when poor communication led to discord in the workplace.

You didn’t receive the email the rest of us saw? Wonder why that is. The meeting has been moved to a new time and location – you didn’t know that? The boss told me we are supposed to be working with the purchasing team on this, what did he tell you? And on and on. This one is huge.

7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work

Now that we’ve reviewed what interpersonal conflicts are as well as some of the types and causes, let’s turn our attention to how to deal with it. Here’re 7 ground rules for dealing with interpersonal conflict at work.

1. Acknowledge the Conflict

The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. The longer you bury your head in the sand and pretend there isn’t conflict, the worse it will become.

Advertising

Once you’ve acknowledged the conflict, take a look at it objectively. Be open and honest with yourself about what part of the conflict you may have contributed to. Look at it from a variety of angles, not just yours. See what you can do to help resolve this conflict.

2. Open up the Lines of Communication

Think of this as being the one to offer the olive branch. Once you’ve acknowledged that there is a conflict, be the one to open up the lines of communication.

Reach out to the other person or people and set up a meeting to discuss the conflict. Approach the upcoming communication in the spirit of collaboration. You are all working towards the same goal, it’s okay to differ on the road to take. Work to create the sense of team that everyone can get behind.

3. Focus on the Problem, Not the Other Person

Try your best not to take things personally when addressing these conflicts. It’s so easy to go down the path of thinking someone is doing something to you when in reality, that is rarely true.

Keep your focus on the problem and not on the other person or people. Remember to concentrate on solving the actual issue and not changing another person. It’s highly unlikely you will be able to change someone else. Look for ways to work together to come to a resolution that will work for everyone.

4. Stick to the Facts

This is similar to focusing on the problem and not the person, but takes it a step deeper. When looking at why a certain conflict is happening, do your best to stick to the facts. It may very well involved another person but look at underlying reasons.

For instance, maybe the conflict is that Shelly doesn’t answer critical emails in a timely manner. It’s doubtful that she’s doing it just to make people angry. Try the 5 Whys technique to find out eh true reason why with her. It could very well be that she has too much going on and is simply overwhelmed. What can be taken off her to do list so she can focus on the most important things? Are there processes that can be implemented that help move things through quicker? Stick to the facts.

5. Meet Face to Face

It’s difficult to truly address a conflict virtually. An email here and there doesn’t really seem to get to the heart of the matter most of the time. Nor is it very beneficial having a 10-minute meeting in someone’s office when the phone is always ringing and their eyes keep skipping back to the non-stop flood of incoming emails.

Figure out a time and location to meet in person away from distractions. This way, you can take the time and focus needed to really address the conflict. Not to mention that sitting across the table from someone goes a long way towards enhancing the relationship.

Advertising

6. Pick Your Battles

It’s very easy to pick at just about every little thing, especially if you aren’t the one doing it. In general, we all tend to think there’s a right way of doing things, usually our own. There’s always a wrong way of doing things, the way other people do the same thing. The point is there’s only so much we can do.

I get frustrated by some of the inefficiencies of process in my job as well as some of the people that work in those departments. It doesn’t make sense for me to consider each of these a conflict and set out to resolve it. There’s a lot of things outside of my control and frankly aren’t worth me spending too much time on.

If it’s simply an annoyance, let it go and concentrate on things that are more important to you.

7. Make a Decision and Act on It

Finally, once you’ve addressed the conflict with the other party or parties, it’s time to seal the deal. When you’ve come to a decision about how to handle a conflict, make an action plan. And most importantly, do it.

It doesn’t do anybody any good to take the time and spend the energy resolving interpersonal conflict at work and then doing nothing about it. Once you’ve got it figured out, take the final step and take the necessary action to resolve it.

Conclusion

So now, you’ve learned about what an interpersonal conflict is as well as some different types. You have also understood some of the more common causes of interpersonal conflicts at work. Most importantly, you’ve learned the 7 ground rules for dealing with interpersonal conflict at work.

Remember and refer to the list the next time you find yourself facing difficulties with dealing with others on the job. Creating an action plan based on these ground rules will help you create a team oriented environment at work where everyone can thrive.

More About Dealing with Conflicts

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

More by this author

Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

13 Essential People Skills to Succeed in Your Career How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success How to Speak Up at Work Without Being Offensive How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Trending in Communication

1 Positive Motivation vs Negative Motivation: Which One Is Better? 2 What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities 3 Why You’re Feeling Empty and How to Fill the Void 4 Had a Bad Day? 6 Ways to Rebound from It 5 How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on December 9, 2019

What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge. High-ranking people – your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or at the workplace.

The following is a list of characteristics of a leader who successfully leads a great team:

1. Stay Positive, Even in the Worst Situations

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and, by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

Even some simple things like providing cupcakes or beers on Fridays can make the world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

Even in the worst situations such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figure out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

Walt Disney (1901-1966), had his share of hardships and challenges; and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse.

    What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

    Break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

    Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down — Because sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

    2. Exhibit Confidence Everywhere

    All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

    Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high and the problem will be solved more quickly.

    If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go down hill from there.

    Advertising

    Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

      What Can You Learn from Elon Musk?

      You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

      • List 10 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll be more confident about yourself.
      • Work on your strengths, do your best to enhance them.

      3. Have a Sense of Humor

      It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

      Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off, because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

      Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the work place.

      As president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes”,[1] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[2] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest – no doubt that helped during some tense moments in the White House!

        What Can You Learn from Barak Obama?

        Laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

        Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspirations from the internet.

        4. Embrace Failures and Manage Set Backs

        No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

        Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear and binge-drinking under desks.

        Great leaders do in fact lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

        Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

        Advertising

          What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

          Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

          To do this, use the 5 Whys problem solving framework.

          By asking “why” for 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

          You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

          5. Listen, and Give Feedback

          This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

          The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

          The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

            What Can You Learn from Dalai Lama?

            Encourage communication between team members and establishing an open door policy.

            Practice not to interrupt team members when they’re talking.

            Summarize what they say and ask for feedback every time after you have talked about your ideas.

            6. Know How and When to Delegate

            No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

            Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

            Although Steve Jobs is known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members – like Tim Cook – Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even while he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

            Advertising

              What Can You Learn from Steve Jobs?

              To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

              • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses and personalities.
              • Talk with your team members more too to know more about their passion and interests.

              Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

              7. Inspire and Grow People Around

              Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

              Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

              Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk drew attention, because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

                What Can You Learn from Pope Francis?

                Spend time to talk with other team members individually to understand them.

                Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

                8. Take Responsibility and Never Blame Others

                Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

                The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

                Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind.[3] This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

                  What Can You Learn from Howard Gillman?

                  Ask yourself what you could have done better to prevent this from happening.

                  Take the responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

                  Advertising

                  9. Make Decisions Based on Lessons Learned in the Past

                  It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career (figuratively, of course). Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

                  Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

                  You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories, or search from your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

                  Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake.[4] From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely – and it shows.

                    What Can You Learn from Warren Buffett?

                    Write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made.

                    Have all the lessons well organized and  when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

                    10. Lead by Example and Commit to Do the Best

                    Great leaders stick to their commitments and promises, and they are the most committed and hard working ones on the job. All great leaders lead by example.

                    Why should your staff and team members give it their all if you don’t bother to? By proving your own commitment, great leaders will inspire others to do the same, as well as earn their respect and instill a good work ethic.

                    After 15 years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was voted state counsellor in Myanmar – one of the highest-profile and most powerful positions in the country. She became a symbol of peaceful resistance when she attempted to bring democracy to her country.[5] In the early years of her detention, she was often in solitary confinement. Suu Kyi is a perfect example of committed and belief-driven leadership, which she openly demonstrated during her many years of house arrest.

                      What Can You Learn from Aung San Suu Kyi?

                      Some people learn by observing the way you perform a task, some need more detailed guidelines.

                      So dedicate time to demonstrate your work to team members, let them observe how you do it. Summarize the skills you use and let team members know how you make difficult things work.

                      The Bottom Line

                      Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader too.

                      Make small changes your habits when you work with your team – wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs.

                      But we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

                      More About Leadership

                      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      Read Next