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Jul 10, 2008

Leadership Tips: Conflicts at Work & Tips for a Speedy Path to Resolution

You may be one smart employee or you may be the big boss, but whatever your situation is at work there is one skill not taught in business school or included in most employee training manuals – the skill of effectively and constructively dealing with conflict.

Conflicts appear everywhere… in your existing job, in a new job, and in everyday life. Reasons for conflict may come from the most trivial matters, to bothersome issues that have accumulated over time. Conflicts may also be the result of varying work styles, clashing personalities, and/or differing opinions.

Sometimes conflicts arise when people feel pressured or stressed for reasons that may have nothing to do with work. Conflicts may also arise because one’s objectives and challenges are not fully communicated to another, thus creating an unnecessary misunderstanding. Whatever the cause it is critical to your career and personal progression to learn how to effectively deal with conflicts. Here are some tips that may help you with conflicts encountered at work:

Avoid losing your temper in front of your audience. Losing your temper may be perceived as a sign of weakness and your rivals, if any, will be alerted on how to easily push your buttons. Instead, take 3 deep breaths, use a stress reliever to expend frustration (e.g. stress ball, paper clip, etc.) and promptly and politely leave the situation, only to return to the scene when you reach a calmer state. If the other person(s) persistently remain in your face and block your path, state that you do not want to make the situation worse than it is and that if he/she feels the real need to rant, you can meet for a productive and open session at a later time.

Be proactive in creating a list of possible solutions before you talk to the other person. When you feel the tension in the air and anticipate a particularly heated discussion in the near future, be prepared with suggestions on how to resolve a specific conflict. Also remember, that the delivery of your suggestions should be carried out in a way so that the other person(s) will feel engaged and collaborative.

Maintain a calm, cool, and collected temperament. Avoid accusatory remarks such as, "You're always . . ." or "You never . . ." Attempt to make the discussion collaborative and open. For example, “I thought we spoke about the deadline for this project, but I do want to understand why it is late. Can we talk about what went wrong and how we can both work together to learn from our mistakes?” Then, wait for the other person’s response. If you sense the other person becoming defensive, try to calm him/her down by stating, “We’re both in this together, I just want to know how we can make things better. Can you help me to do this?”.

Be empathetic. Try to step into the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself how he/she feels about the situation. Step back and think about how you are contributing to the situation. Are you adding onto the pressure/grief/anger? Or, are you the one delaying the progress to a speedy resolution?

Listen…listen…listen. Provide the other person with the courtesy of your attention. Once he/she is able to tell his/her own perspective without interruption, he/she will be more inclined to listen attentively to you. Providing others with the opportunity to share how they feel helps to calm tempers, resolve problems and differences, and allows for compromise.

Determine the underlying reason for a conflict. As a successful negotiator, ask yourself questions to determine the real issue surrounding a conflict. Approaching a conflict in this manner can save you and the other person a lot of time in arguing. Make sure that no personal emotions get embedded into the conflict and attempt to resolve the real issue quickly and move on.

Compromise and take what you can get. Let’s face it… maybe these tips may work for you, or maybe you have encountered a person so difficult to interact with, that they won’t work. If this is the case, try to get him/her to agree with at least 50% of your proposals, having at least half of a proposed resolution done is better than nothing. After some time, approach the other person again and see if you can work in the other half of a resolution at a later, less heated time.

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