Conflict at Work? Plan Your Way Out of It!

Uncategorized Jul 30, 2020

Let's face it. We all have that coworker (or boss, or direct report…) that we think of when someone asks "who's the biggest thorn in your side at work?". No one needs daily workplace conflict in their life.

But it doesn't take very long to develop a game plan that sets you on the path to office nirvana.

I like to make things very simple (life is complicated enough, in my opinion!). To execute this four-step plan, you need a pen or a pencil, a piece of paper, an optional adult beverage, and your best brain cell.

And it wouldn't hurt to download the free guide that accompanies this post!  Just click here.

Figure Out if the Conflict is Worth Resolving

Before we can begin to resolve a conflict, we need to think about the cold hard facts of the situation. Grab your paper and jot down all the things you can objectively think of regarding the situation. These are facts only!

Now jot down how those facts made you feel.

For example, what was said is fact. That you thought it was rude and demeaning is your interpretation of fact and how you felt.

With those facts and feelings in mind, you now turn to the benefits of resolving this conflict.

Benefits can be anything from saving you time every day, to eliminating a constant drain on your energy, to not putting your other coworkers in the middle.

Figure Out the Conflict Styles

We all have a go-to style for managing conflict that we try first. Then we usually move on to other styles if that isn't working. But before we can figure out what our go-to conflict management style is, we need a quick overview.

A Quick Summary of the Five Conflict Resolution Styles, according to Thomas Killmann

  • AVOIDING - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it
  • ACCOMMODATING - allowing the other person to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own
  • COMPROMISING - attempting to resolve the conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both people but completely satisfactory to neither
  • COMPETING - using your formal authority or power to satisfy your concerns without regard to the other person's concerns
  • COLLABORATING - co-operating with the other person to understand their concerns in an effort to find a mutually satisfying solution

All the styles are appropriate under different situations and, odds are, you use all of them at different times.

Now that we have those under our belt, use the following three questions to help you determine your game plan:

  • What is your go-to style when conflict rears up?
  • What do you think your coworker's style is, based on the observable facts?
  • Which style seems like the best approach, given the situation?

Plan the Conflict Conversation

At the beginning, you want to own up to your feelings about conflict in general and why you feel this is important enough to address.

It's OK to say "I am so, so uncomfortable dealing with things like this, but I want to be allies as well as colleagues, so I want to talk about this." It makes you human and relatable AND lets them know that the relationship is important to you.

The bulk of the conversation is all about the facts. First, describe the situation where this happened, then the behavior that you observed. Be objective here! We want to say "Yesterday, in the staff meeting, you interrupted me three times." NOT, "yesterday in the staff meeting, you were rude!" Describe, don't evaluate.

Then you give the impact it had on you. Those are the feelings you jotted down with each fact. "Yesterday, in the staff meeting, you interrupted me three times and I felt belittled and disrespected."

This works because the other person can't defend against how you felt. They can say that it wasn't their intent to belittle or disrespect you, but they can't argue with you about how you felt.

The last part is the request for a change in behavior. "Could you please let me finish my thoughts before speaking up?" It should be something reasonable and actionable. There might be some conversation around this, but if you want the relationship to be better, and you come from that place during the conversation, you'll find something that is acceptable for both of you.

At the end of the conversation, it's good to leave on a positive note, to let emotions dissipate a bit. Have a safe or neutral topic ready such as the weather, traffic, or a common area renovation. This makes it so your next conversation goes smoother as you work on a better relationship. Negative feelings tend to linger!

It doesn't have to be a big, hairy transition. "Well, now that we have a plan for staff meetings, I noticed you were off for a few days. What did you do?"

Get it on the Books

Finally it's time to schedule the meeting. Decide what time of day is best and be sure to give them a vague idea of what you want to talk about. Take enough time to calm down, but not too much time. Bad news doesn't get better with time and often makes things worse.

Consider your location carefully. A private office, glass conference room, video call, cafeteria, even walking outside are all good options. It's actually amazing how talking and walking can make the conversation go better! If crying is a likely possibility, choose a spot close to a restroom for a graceful retreat.

My last tip is to breathe rhythmically (in & out for the same count) and smoothly (the same volume of breath each time). This will help calm and
center you for the conversation.

Finally, know that conflict is uncomfortable, unavoidable and healthy. You are doing a good thing. If you're nervous, practice with a trusted person or your coach.

This topic is so important, I've created a guide to help you through. You can find it here. It covers the four steps plus I've added tips and examples along the way.

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