How to Prevent Workplace Conflict

Sep 7, 2011
4 Min Read

Who hasn’t been involved with or witnessed workplace conflict in some form or another? Dealing with conflict in the workplace is absolutely essential for a successful career. You have to be able to get along with people, collaborate with others to get things done, and negotiate to get your way when necessary.

First, let’s define conflict. Unproductive workplace conflict occurs when there is relational tension among colleagues. Focused, productive conflict, that is centered around a project or a task is generally not problematic. In fact, it is beneficial to have diverse perspectives and differing ideas. Only when such conflict turns personal is when trouble starts.

There are many reasons for conflict, which can be personal, organizational, or situational. But one thing that often gets overlooked is that our reactions to a conflict can be a source of conflict as well. For example, a minor situation can trigger an ongoing conflict because we don’t understand, we don’t listen, or we don’t empathize.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to deal with more minor conflicts so they don’t turn into more major long-term conflicts:

  • Listen – This sounds simple. In fact, it is simple. But it isn’t easy. Sometimes just listening to the “other side” can resolve a conflict in its entirety. The trick is to forget your own concerns for the time being and focus on the others’ perspective. Don’t interrupt and just let them vent. See if you can really truly understand where they are coming from.
  • Brainstorm – You know what the solution is; the other side knows what the solution is. The only problem is that they are different! What now? Look for new solutions. Put all available solutions down in writing, and then start narrowing the list down to more feasible ones. You may discover something either of you haven’t thought of!
  • Focus – Step back and re-examine priorities. Focus on the task-related and performance-related issues. What are your goals? What actions are in line with those goals? Get an objective second opinion if needed.
  • Choose – Sometimes the reason behind the conflict is simply personal. Perhaps there is a personality clash that cannot be worked around. It happens. To deal, draw a line and choose your battles. Decide beforehand what you will and will not put up with. Decide when it is more productive to attempt to fight the battle and when it is better to let it go.

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