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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

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Last Updated on April 14, 2021

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

We all lose our temper from time to time, and expressing anger is actually a healthy thing to do in our relationships with others. Expressing our differences in opinion allows us to have healthy conflict and many times come to an agreement or understanding that works for everyone. However, there are times when anger can become overwhelming or damaging, and during these times, it’s important to learn how to deal with anger.

Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to relationships, both personal and professional. You may express too much anger, too often, or at times that are only going to make things worse, not better. In this article we will look at anger management techniques that will help you better control your emotions.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with anger.

Expressing Anger

Anger is a natural and normal part of almost any relationship. This includes relationships with your significant other, kids, boss, friends, family, etc. Anger provides us with valuable information if we are willing to listen to it. It clues us in to areas where we disagree with others and things that need to be changed or altered.

Unhealthy Ways to Express Anger

Here are some common yet unhealthy ways to express anger that you should avoid:

Being Passive-Aggressive

This is a term many of us are familiar with. Passive-aggressive behavior happens when someone is angry but uses indirect communication to express their anger.

Some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors include the silent treatment, making comments about someone behind their back, being grumpy, moody, or pouting, or simply not doing tasks or assignments that they should.

This is a passive-aggressive person’s way of showing their anger. It’s not very productive but extremely common.

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Poorly-Timed

Some people get overwhelmed and express anger in a situation where it can’t really do any good.

An example would be getting angry at one person in front of a crowd of people. All that does is make people uncomfortable and shuts them down. It’s not a healthy way to express anger or disagreement with someone.

Ongoing Anger

Being angry all the time is most often a symptom of something else. It’s healthy and normal to express anger when you disagree with someone. However, if someone is angry most of the time and always seems to be expressing their anger to everyone around them, this won’t serve them well.

Over time, people will start to avoid this person and have as little contact as possible. The reason being is no one likes being around someone who is angry all the time; it’s a no-win situation.

Healthy Ways to Express Anger

What about the healthy ways[1] to adapt? When learning how to deal with anger, here are some healthy ways to get you started.

Being Honest

Express your anger or disagreement honestly. Be truthful about what it is that is making you angry. Sometimes this will entail walking away and thinking about it for a bit before you respond.

Don’t say you’re mad at something someone did or said when it’s really something else that upset you.

Being Direct

Similar to being honest, being direct is a healthy way to express anger.

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Don’t talk around something that is making you angry. Don’t say that one thing is making you angry when it’s really something else, and don’t stack items on top of each other so you can unload on someone about 10 different things 6 months from now.

Be direct and upfront about what is making you angry. Ensure you are expressing your anger to the person who upset you or you are angry at, not to someone else. This is very counterproductive.

Being Timely

When something makes you angry, it’s much better to express it in a timely manner. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you, as that’s only going to do more harm than good.

Think of the marriages that seem to go up in flames out of nowhere when the reality is someone kept quiet for years until they hit their breaking point.

Expressing anger as it occurs is a much healthier way of using anger to help us guide our relationships in the moment.

How to Deal With Anger

If you feel angry, how should you deal with it right at that moment?

1. Slow Down

From time to time, I receive an email at work that makes me so angry that steam is probably pouring out of my ears.

In my less restrained moments, I have been known to fire off a quick response, and that typically has ended about as well as you might imagine.

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When I actually walk away from my computer and go do something else for a while, I am able to calm down and think more rationally. After that happens, I am able to respond in a more appropriate and productive manner. Doing things that helps you learn how to release anger can make an uncomfortable situation more manageable before it gets out of hand.

2. Focus on the “I”

Remember that you are the one that’s upset. Don’t accuse people of making you upset because, in the end, it’s your response to what someone did that really triggered your anger. You don’t want to place blame by saying something like “Why don’t you ever put away your dishes?” Say something more like “Having dirty dishes laying on the counter upsets me—can you work with me to come to a solution?”

When you are accusatory towards someone, all that does is increase the tension. This doesn’t usually do anything except make your anger rise higher.

3. Work out

When learning how to deal with anger, exercise is a great outlet. If something happens that angers you, see if you have the opportunity to burn off some of the anger.

Being able to hit the gym to get a hard workout in is great. If this isn’t an option, see if you can go for a run or a bike ride. If you are at work when you become angry and the weather permits, at least go outside for a brisk walk.

Besides working some of your anger out through exercise, this also helps to give your mind a chance to work through some ways to address what it is that upset you.

If you’re not sure where to start with an exercise routine, check out Lifehack’s free Simple Cardio Home Workout Plan.

4. Seek Help When Needed

There are times when we could all use some help. Life can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to seek some help from a mental health professional if it will help you get back to a healthy balance.If you find that you are angry all the time, it might be a good idea to go talk to an expert about learning to control intense emotions. They can give you some sound advice and ideas on how to get your anger to a more manageable and healthy level.

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5. Practice Relaxation

We all seem to lead incredibly busy lives, and that’s a good thing if we are loving the life we are living. That being said, it is very beneficial to our physical and mental well-being to take time out for relaxation.

That can mean spending time doing things that help us calm down and relax, like being around people we enjoy, practicing deep breathing or listening to music. It could be making time for things that help bring us balance like a healthy diet and physical activity.

Many people incorporate techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm their minds and release tension when learning how to deal with anger. Whatever your choice is, ensure you take time out to relax when warning signs of anger start to bubble up.

6. Laugh

Incorporating humor and laughter on a regular basis will help keep anger in check and help you get over a bad mood and feelings of anger more quickly. This isn’t part of formal anger management techniques, but you’ll be surprised by how well it works. Remember, life is a journey that’s meant to be enjoyed fully along the way through healthy emotion. Make sure you take time to laugh and have fun.Surround yourself with people that like to laugh and enjoy life. Don’t work at a job that just causes you stress, which can lead to anger. Work at something you enjoy doing.

7. Be Grateful

It’s easy to focus on the bad in life and the things that cause us negative emotions. It’s vitally important to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things in life that bring us positive emotions, things that we easily forget because we get caught up in the whirlwind of day to day life.

Take time out each day to remind yourself of a few things you are grateful for in order to help you learn how to release anger and invite in more positive feelings.

Final Thoughts

Life can be overwhelming at times. We seem to have constant pressure to achieve more and to always be on the go. People we are around and situations we are in can cause stress, anger, and negative emotions. At times, it can seem to be too much, and we get angry and our emotions start to get out of control.

During these times, keep in mind that life is an incredible journey, full of wonder and things that bring you joy. When you find yourself angry more often than is healthy, take time out to remember the good things in life—the things that we seem to forget yet bring us so much positive energy and emotions.

Use some of the tips included here to help with how to deal with anger and better control your emotions.

More Resources on Anger Management

Featured photo credit: Andre Hunter via unsplash.com

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