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7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Mat Apodaca

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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