Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship, be it your partner, parents, friends and even at work. But managing conflict, figuring out solutions that keep the peace, that doesn’t leave us tearful or holding a grudge, that help us to move forward ain’t always easy. And for many of us, it’s because we’re not too familiar with conflict resolution skills. So keep reading to find out some secrets to solving workplace wobbles and build those working relationships up.
Whether we’re familiar with conflict resolution skills or not, we are definitely familiar with the feeling that mismanaged conflict can bring us. From damaging relationships, to making our jobs difficult to do or even turn up to, conflict in the workplace is possibly harder to manage than conflict outside. We’re probably less fearful of the consequences that an argument might have with our partner compared to our boss. We’re probably quicker to snap at our parents than the people we work with. And we’re more likely to say something at all when we’re uncomfortable at home or out of office, than in - even if ‘in the office’ is still working from home for us.
The professional environment can add a layer of tension to conflict that we often see less of at home - not always, but how many of us are more likely to overtly roll our eyes at someone we love, than someone we work with or for? This layer of tension is likely caused by employees holding back, keeping quiet, or maintaining a level of reserve at work. Now, that’s not to say it is less frequent at work, but it’s safe to say we tend to avoid conflict at work more than at home - even those of us who avoid conflict in general like the plague.
Confrontation and conflict
One of the main reasons we shy away from conflict, wherever it may be, is because of the hugely unpleasant feelings it causes us. Whether we’re angry and fed up, feeling down and deflated, or simply hate the thought of confronting an issue, conflict doesn’t feel good to be wrapped up in, and so we bid to avoid it, ignore it, and bury it. But we all know what happens then right..?
Yep… it comes back, it brews behind smiles, builds beyond control, and the next we know we’re shouting at Terrance from Accounting because THE FIGURES AREN’T READY YET, and poor old Terrance is shook by this seemingly surprising reaction - that’s actually been building for a while. And now we just feel guilty for shouting at a colleague, for losing our patience and not being ‘professional’ in the workplace - plus the witnesses around now slightly terrified whether they're next in the firing line of your wrath.
However, there are skills we can develop that can help us to stay calm in the face of conflict, build effective solutions together, and to prevent that office outburst from sinking our souls.
4 conflict resolution skills you need to protect your peace:
When we’re feeling stressed our ability to focus and stay calm is compromised - and in conflict, we often feel stressed. Being able to manage our stress response, in the moment, can help us to stay calm, and therefore stay alert and able to take in verbal and non verbal communication even when it’s heated. Check out our blog on managing stress in the moment here.
Respond rather than react
This is a case of being able to control our emotions and behaviours - which of course is easier said than done. It doesn’t mean not allowing ourselves to feel things, as this is almost impossible when we’re irked or agitated, but it does mean being able to respond rather than react. For example, we can react and shout at poor old Terrance, or we can pause and calmly collect our thoughts and feelings, and respond in a healthy, conflict-free way.
Sometimes the last thing we want or can do is hold empathy, to pause and understand the feelings of others, especially when we’re in the midst of conflict with them. But perhaps Terrance is feeling the pressure from his boss and needs those figures to prevent him being blamed. If we can recognise this, it can help us to respond rather than react, it can help us to stay calm and manage our own stress response, and can allow for healthy communication to reach resolution - rather than snapping or getting angry.
Be respectful and aware of differences
Keeping an awareness of differences in individuals, departments, roles, and being able to respect these can prevent conflict getting blown up. By avoiding disrespectful words or actions in conflict, we can often resolve a problem much quicker and prevent damage to the relationship. And when it comes to our colleagues, people from many walks of life, with different backgrounds, in different roles, with different priorities, we’ll find conflict at work is minimal.
In the heat of the moment, remembering these skills, and then applying won’t be straightforward. So it’s a case of practising these skills so that when conflict does arise, wherever that may be, we can fall back on our practice to help us muddle through. We also know, even with these skills drilled into us, the heat of the moment can cloud our judgement and cause us to forget skills like these even exist. So be compassionate with yourself and others when we lose it over dirty mugs in the staff room, late replies to important emails, or Terrance asking for the figures yet again.
Conflict resolution at work: sometimes preventing conflict at work isn’t possible, and using these skills doesn’t cut it, and that’s when it’s time to seek support from your workplace to help resolve it. In cases of harassment, bullying or discrimination, these skills aren’t enough to support our conflict resolution and we might need help from our boss to find solutions, from HR or even mediation. If you’re feeling uncomfortable at work, speak to someone who can support you, who you trust, and can signpost you to further advice where necessary.