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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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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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