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Resolving Conflict at Work

Mona is a veteran writer, columnist for Enrich Magazine, and life coach. She holds webinars and seminars on writing and emotional health.

My article featured on Enrich Magazine, June 2021

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Conflict happens because we are all human

Whether you are at work, among family, with friends, or at church, conflict will inevitably arise. Conflict happens because all of us are human, and at one point or another, our differences will lead to misunderstanding or misinterpreting an incident. In the office, conflict particularly tends to occur because you are working with the same people day after day. There will come a time when you disagree with someone else, and it will either eat at you both day by day and evolve into a longstanding “war”, or it will be resolved.

Conflict doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Instead, it happens among the best people, especially at the workplace. Maybe two leaders simply don’t get along with each other. It isn’t uncommon. In fact, when you are with a group of leaders, it is much harder to come to a consensus. The book, True North by Bill George said that in such a case, one can lead from the middle. Ergo, from the middle, you bring together the higher and lower company perspectives so that the leaders involved can make informed decisions that are operationally and strategically aligned.

Another conflict scenario at work is one where two team leaders don’t get along and it affects the members of their team. As a result, two teams are at war with each other. This makes the conflict even worse.


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Extended conflict leads to a buildup of tensions that refuse to go away.

Conflict, large or small, poses a challenge for a company leader. How does one resolve conflict? What modus operandi does a leader follow when overseeing the fires of conflict here and there, and putting them out before they affect the company’s productivity?

In resolving conflict, the most important thing to recognize is that there is always an underlying reason for disagreements, and the first thing you need to do is to resolve the conflict by recognizing what the underlying reason is.

Sometimes it’s something that one person does unconsciously, such as the person’s tone of voice, specific words, or body language. Maybe their voice, words, and stance seem harmless, but the pith of the argument lies in how the other party interprets the above. And sometimes it’s something you just can’t help, like a person’s race, and country of origin.

Extended conflict leads to a buildup of tensions that refuse to go away. This can happen even among the best of friends, coworkers, team members, team leaders, managers, and so forth.


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Here are some practical ways that you can use to handle conflict at work:

  1. Recognize the conflict as soon as you see it, and deal with it. Otherwise, the longer you ignore it, the more likely it is that tension will rise and the situation will worsen. It may even define the daily frame of mind at the office, take root, and become a pervading situation. This is why you have to deal with conflict as soon as possible. Don’t ignore it. That’s the worst thing you can do.

    Encourage peace. As the leader, you have to talk to conflicting employees and encourage them to work things out between themselves in a harmonious way. If the two teams that are in conflict are also collaborating on shared projects, you will have to examine their cross-departmental communication and see if the problem lies there. Another possibility is that there isn’t much communication between the two teams. In such a case, you will have to encourage the teams to have more conversations together. Another option may be to increase regular emails between the two teams. If the situation is more complicated than you initially realized, a meeting between departmental heads may be required. Let the team leaders ask themselves: Do the teams need more conversation together? Or do you just need regular departmental emails from one team to the next and vice versa?

If the problem is more complex than expected is for the department heads to meet and communicate with each other, and then convey needed changes to their respective teams.

Conflict between a manager and an employee. If the conflict is between a manager and an employee, the issue should be discussed in private, as early as possible.

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Pointers to keep in mind

You are now at the point where you know what the conflict is, and you are ready to address it. In doing so, keep the following pointers in mind:

  1. Control. You can’t control how other people will behave or react to your intervention.
  2. Underlying problem. There is no guarantee that the conflict will ebb away because of one single meeting. The underlying problem may be more complicated than that.
  3. Use the passive voice. The passive voice sounds more neutral. An example of the passive voice and the active voice is:

(1) [Active voice] John lost the document.

(2) [Passive voice] The document was lost by John. Or: The document was lost.


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Show you have good intentions

  1. Remember the four fundamental language skills. We refer here to: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. When possible, use all four of these skills, as each one reinforces the other.

    Keep a few key phrases in your pocket. Use key phrases that will restate how the other person feels, and convey to the other person the fact that you are there to help.

Show that you have good intentions. Make sure that the person(s) see that you mean well, and your intentions and purposes are good. Let the other(s) see that you are truly focused on the discussion at hand.

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Here are some examples of key phrases that you may find useful:

  1. “I feel ill at ease about something, and I’d like to talk about it. Would now be okay?” When you say this, it indicates that you want to solve a problem, and you feel it would be better to do so sooner than later. Negotiation and conflict communication professional Israela Brill-Cass says, “Unresolved conflict doesn’t go away. It festers”.
  2. I value your willingness to talk about this.” This phrase is useful because not all people are willing to engage in what they may perceive to be a difficult conversation. Also, it helps to lessen the conflagration and turn it into a tiny fire instead.

“I want this conversation, even if it might not resolve things.” As earlier said, there is no guaranteed outcome when you have a well-intended conversation with other people. Humans have their own individual differences. Because of this, for some people, having a difficult conversation may not lead to closure. In other cases, the hurt may deepen when a person is told certain truths, even if your intention was good rather than mean, according to Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein, author, The Anxiety, Depression & Anger Toolbox.

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  1. Let’s clarify …” Oftentimes people in a company can get territorial. The way one person perceives one’s authority, as compared to who actually is in authority, can lead to added stress. This is a situation that needs to be clarified. To do this, you can:
  1. Explain the protocol that will be followed.
  2. Clarify how you will proceed with the work,
  3. Talk about how to get the job done.
  4. Discuss the team’s timeline.
  5. Clearly specify terms like “later”, “priority”, “soon”, and other vague terms.
  1. “Um”. This small word is both neutral and implies continuance of the conversation. The other person doesn’t feel like they are being brushed off, which could otherwise be inflammatory. This small word implies that you are feeling calm and you want to hear what the other person is saying.

“I remember your saying that before, but I want to get this clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt.” You are saying that you want to get to the root of a person’s problem, so you have to listen more. Listening more doesn’t mean you will be convinced, it only means that you will listen for as long as it takes so that the person will finally feel like they have closure, and they will no longer bring up the issue again.

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Here is a framework of strategies you can use to deal with conflict:

  1. Prevention is better. It’s best that you respond fast. Anticipate potential conflict, or at least, act immediately at the slightest indication that a conflict is brewing. You can do this by:
  1. Establishing officially accepted behavior at work. By doing so, your team will know clearly what is allowable at work.
  2. Establishing expectations in terms of:

-- Job descriptions

-- The acceptable structure for discussions

-- Hierarchy

-- Individual responsibilities

-- Clarifying appropriate business practices
-- Giving time for team building and developing leadership

2. If you need to talk to two people in conflict, do it outside of the office.

A neutral space such as a coffee shop or a restaurant implies the absence of one-upmanship. Tension and anger and will disperse more easily between the two adversaries simply because they are in a different setting.

3. Don’t accuse. This is the worst way to try to defuse a fight and establish Peace.

4. Say something positive about each adversary. This will show that you aren’t accusing anyone. Instead, this is a time to hear all sides and establish the facts and what needs to be done. The best way to gather the facts is to start by saying something good about each adversary. Then focus on getting the job done as needed.


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5. Be a good listener. Don’t plan what you’ll say in your mind, just listen. Also, when someone speaks:

  1. Don’t interrupt them.
  2. Rephrase what the person said. That way, you can clarify whether or not you got the message correctly.
  3. If you’re not sure that you understood what they said, ask questions. This will help you to get the message right.

6. Guide, don’t resolve. The adversaries may be very emotional. Rather than take a side, see if you can guide them into what you need to do for the good of the team. If they feel they played a role in the solution, it will be easier for them to take ownership of it and to act upon it.

7. Remember your goal. This is what you keep in mind from the start to the end of the meeting. Don’t get sidetracked. And don’t confuse a battle with a war. Psychologist Carl Hindy said, “If you win the argument, you’ve lost.” Instead, he suggests, “You could decide to make someone feel good and strengthen the relationship. (In that way) you can redefine winning and losing. That’s (what real) winning (is).”

Comments

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on June 28, 2021:

Thank you so much, Dora:):):) FINALLY I know how it's done. Now I can start replying again after I read an article:):):)

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on June 28, 2021:

Hi Devika, how wonderful to hear from you. I'm always happy when you visit. Thank you, too for your kind words. So grateful when you are here to shine your bright light.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 27, 2021:

Mona, I just happened to see your question. So many of us have that problem of not being able to comment on articles we like, and we're not happy about it.

Here's what I gather. If you see the article while it is still on the general HubPages site, before it is transferred to Discover or a niche site, you can comment as you would in old times.

When it has been moved to a niche site, sign in and Click on the HubPages name at the top of the page. You will be taken to the HubFeed. Then you have to scroll down until you find the article you're looking for. The older the article, the longer it will take to find it (unless someone else recently found it and commented on it). It's a task, and not a favorable exercise for busy people.

Someone scrolled to find your article. That brought it near the front and so I noticed it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 26, 2021:

Well done on your achievements. Your ideas are helpful and work at what you are good at.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on June 25, 2021:

Hi FlourishAnyway, I can't wait for my next songlist for today. By the way, have you figured out a way to comment on Maven? I noticed that some have, and would like to do so as well.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on June 25, 2021:

Thank you so much, Mr. Bill. I don't miss corporate work either, hahahaha. By the way, maybe you could advise me on how to make comments with Maven? I noticed some people were able to do it, but I just don't know how. I miss making comments on your article. It's just part of what makes the Hub Pages community special.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on June 25, 2021:

Ms. Dora, it is so nice to hear from you, and thank you for your visit. May I ask if you can advise me on how to make comments with Maven? I noticed some comments came out in an article I wrote even with Maven, but I don't know how to do it. I always feel bad when I can't comment on something I've read.

Anyway, best wishes to you:):):)

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 23, 2021:

Congratulations on your publication. Conflict at work is inevitable but your tips can help smooth the tension.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

I'm just grateful I no longer have to go to work. :) Excellent suggestions about a topic which will affect all who work at one time or another.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 17, 2021:

Thanks for all your pointers on resolving conflict. This is a very helpful article.

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