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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.

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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

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

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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