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Published on October 14, 2020

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace Effectively

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace Effectively

Conflict is part of life. We can get into conflicting viewpoints with our coworkers, spouse, kids, the guy at the convenience store, etc. The truth is that even though we strive to be nice and get along with others, conflict is a natural part of life that can occur in any place where we have a relationship with others. That’s why it’s important to know how to resolve conflict.

Some of us are better at dealing with conflict than others. Personally, I don’t have an issue confronting a difference of opinion right when it occurs. My wife, on the other hand, does not like conflict and typically needs at least a few hours to process and think through whatever it was we disagreed on. We can then talk through our differences.

Her method of dealing with our disagreements is probably better than mine because my quick-to-confront-type routine has gotten me into trouble more than once. This has certainly proven to be true in my case at work on more than one occasion, which leads us to the question: how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively?

What Is Conflict?

Just so we are all on the same page I thought it would be a good idea to clearly define the word conflict. According to the dictionary, a conflict is “a struggle or a clash between opposing forces; a battle or state of opposition between ideas, interests, etc. Also known as a disagreement or controversy, or a clash.”

Simple version: it’s when two or more people don’t agree on something and it escalates a bit to any manner of degrees. This can from two people stating their own side of the issue and then walking away from each other to a shouting match or even gathering other people on their side to try to win the battle. We see this play out in many versions and varieties in all aspects of our lives.

Conflict in the Workplace

Let’s take a look at some of the most common conflict situations in the workplace. After we do that, we will take a deeper dive into how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively.

1. Personality Conflicts

This is where you have to remember that we are all different human beings.

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I like to talk a lot. Maybe I work next to a coworker who prefers quiet while working, but I keep chattering away all day long. Perhaps the person sitting next to you is an avid sports fan and dresses in their favorite team’s jersey every Friday, but you dislike sports. There are many variations of this same thing.

2. Leadership Conflicts

While there are some well-known management styles like the micromanager, the bold visionary, or the open door person, the reality is that there are many different styles as there are people. And as we all know, not everyone gets along with every type of leadership style.

I used to manage people, but I have been an individual contributor for 15 years. My personality type is such that I like a lot of room to create my own way I do a job. At the end of the day, I am very good at what I do and highly successful. That said, I could never work for a micromanager who watches my every move and needs to stay in communication about everything I do. It would drive me crazy and lead to many conflicts for sure.

3. Interdependence Conflicts

You see this one all the time. This is where one person has to rely on another person’s actions to get their own job done, and it doesn’t happen.

Say you are working to put together a deck for an upcoming presentation. You need some numbers for last quarter’s sales results. Bob in accounting is supposed to get you those numbers by a certain date, but he wasn’t able to. Your deadline is looming and you are waiting on Bob who doesn’t answer his phone or respond to email. This makes your blood boil and leads to a place where nobody is happy.

4. Discrimination

Unfortunately, discrimination conflict happens in the workplace as well. This, of course, is when there may be harassment or conflict due to someone’s race, age, religion, gender, and so on. Typically, these get escalated to Human Resources quickly as fortunately, many companies have a no-tolerance policy.

5. Work Style Conflicts

Work style conflicts relate to the way we work both individually or as a team. As mentioned above, I need the latitude to get my job done the way I feel is best. That doesn’t mean I don’t follow the rules and the processes. I just sometimes figure out ways to be more efficient about it to get it done quicker. As such, if someone told me I needed to check 40 boxes to do my job, we would have a problem.

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Some people like to work alone while others in groups. Some people like me dislike being micromanaged, while some people like to get input from others regularly. I like music playing upon occasion when I work, but many people aren’t a fan of that. These are work style conflicts.

6. Creative Idea Conflicts

Creative idea conflicts happen during brainstorming sessions. Two people have different visions or ideas of how a project or idea should be. This type of conflict can actually be very beneficial if the two people are open-minded enough to listen to each other and cooperate on the idea. Many times, it can be the best of both worlds.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the majority of types of conflicts in the workplace.

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace Effectively

Now that we’ve looked at some of the most common types of conflict on the job let’s look at how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively.

1. Calm Down

First and foremost, teach yourself to take a deep breath and calm down. Using myself as an example once again, I can tell you I’ve gotten myself in hot water by not calming down when I’ve gotten upset at something that has led to conflict.

Calming down can many times help prevent conflict. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you receive an email that makes you instantly mad. You immediately fire back a scathing response and feel better—at least for a minute, until you realize what your diatribe probably just opened the door for.

This is something I have been guilty of in more than a few instances. When I am smarter, I take the time to calm down before I respond. This typically leads to much better results.

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When conflict has already occurred, do your best to keep calm when you are getting ready to engage with the person you’ve disagreed with. Approaching the conversation with a cooler head will go a long way towards resolving the issue.

2. Clear Communication

I am a huge advocate of the power of clear communication in every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, many times I seem to be in the minority. Many conflicts happen due to unclear communication. This usually leads to someone misunderstanding another person’s intent (if there even was an intent).

We tend to take things personally. It’s just the way we are built. In reality, very few things are actually directed at us—it’s just the way we interpret them. By practicing clear communication, you will help minimize conflict and it will help you understand the other person better, leading to faster and more effective conflict resolution.

3. Practice Active Listening

Remember, active listening is when you are truly paying attention to what someone is saying—not looking at your phone when it beeps, not typing an email when someone is talking to you, etc.

You must focus all of your attention on what the person is saying to you. This is vital to resolving the conflict because it is so powerful to truly understand what someone is saying instead of what you think they are saying. Practice your proactive listening skills so that you can become a master of dealing with conflict at work.

4. Self-Reflect

The ability to self-reflect and look at the mirror will benefit you when you find yourself in a disagreement at work. Unfortunately, quite a few people don’t take the time to slow down and look at their own part in the conflict. Being able to do this and being honest about the part you have played in the conflict is vital to working towards a mutually agreeable conclusion in the matter.

When you can look inward and see the parts that you have caused, you then have the ability to accept your portion and most importantly, tell the other person you know that you were part of the reason things blew up.

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When someone tells another person “hey, I apologize. I know when I shared my thoughts through email with the rest of the team that really wasn’t the right thing to do,” it will go a long way towards mending that particular fence.

5. Get to Conflict Resolution

Finally, working to a conclusion where everyone feels comfortable about the outcome is an incredibly effective way to resolve conflict in the workplace. If you think about it, if you never actually solve the dispute then the bad feelings will tend the linger.

Work to get to conflict resolution so everyone can get back to working together effectively and happily. When you get to a place where everyone feels comfortable, the workplace becomes a place you want to be in again.

Conclusion

There you have it, how to resolve conflict in the workplace effectively. Conflict happens in every area of our lives where relationships are involved. Every one of us is different, so it’s only natural that we will have friction and discord from time to time.

When you are aware of some of the key ways to resolve the disagreement in the workplace and other areas of your life, you will develop some great skills at living a healthy and fulfilling life.

More Tips on How to Resolve Conflicts

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators 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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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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