5 Tips for Constructively Resolving Office Conflicts

5 Tips for Constructively Resolving Office Conflicts
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Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach
4 min read
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People have many fears -- the fear of speaking in public, the fear of heights, or the fear of snakes, just to name a few.  But one of the biggest fears most of us have is confrontation. We’ll do almost anything to avoid it.

Yet, sometimes, pushing ahead and confronting a problem head on is the best way to resolve it and put it behind you. Especially with co-workers. Unresolved problems can fester and become worse and often result in the dissolution of a relationship. However, if you identify the problem and try to work it out, you can disseminate the building tension.

Confronting a co-worker is never easy. It must be done with respect, honesty and a goal of resolution toward the common good of the company. Most problems aren't caused intentionally, so acknowledging that the problem is not a character flaw of one of the two parties is the best way to start. Here are some useful tips.

1. Don’t fly off the handle.

The worst thing to do is have a knee-jerk reaction. This almost always escalates into a non-productive situation. Instead, put your mind in gear before putting your tongue in drive. In other words, take a moment to calm down and then formulate the right words and attitude to approach your co-worker.


2. Use the good-bad-good formula.

When delivering bad news, it is best to start with something good and end with something positive. This helps ease into the conversation and foster a sense of sharing. Open with something like, “I really admire how hard you worked on the Simpson account this month,” to set a positive tone, and close with “I look forward to seeing the progress that you’ll make.”

3. Try not to use 'but.'

Unfortunately, the word “but” negates everything that is said before it, so try not to create compound sentences that include the word “but” between them. If you’re opening with your positive remark, end it with a period before moving on. An example might be: “We had a number of good comments about the year-end report. You did a thorough job putting it together. The reason I wanted to talk to you today was…”


4. Don’t cast blame.

Nothing but bad feelings develop when a finger is pointed; remember, many conflicts are mere misinterpretations of another’s words or actions. So, instead of bursting out angrily -- “You took over the project and cut me out!” --calmly express how you felt about or interpreted your co-workers actions. Allow him or her to give you an explanation.

An alternative way of expressing yourself could be to say, “Although I appreciate your finishing the project yourself, I had expected it to be a 50-50 effort and was disappointed not to be more involved.”

5. Report back.

Let your co-worker respond, then echo back what you hear in order to clarify and let them know you understand their point of view on the subject. Reiterate how you feel about it and move toward a solution. Continuing from the previous example, their response might be, “Once I got started, I thought it would be easier to just to go ahead and finish the project. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

You can respond, in turn, with, “I can understand that once you got rolling you thought it would be easier to just go ahead and finish, however, I felt left out of the loop. Next time, I want to contribute and work on our project together.” This approach accepts the explanation, airs the feelings and offers a solution.

These steps to approaching conflict enable co-workers to interact with mutual respect and an eye toward a satisfactory future action, and should set the stage for successful resolution of any issue, before it escalates.


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