Let’s face it: conflict is just part of life. Each of us has a story of conflict in our lives, both personally and professionally. In fact, 80% of people report having conflict with their colleagues at work! But even though it is common in the workplace, a lot of us do not manage conflict well.
Here are some things to think about when facing a disagreement with your colleague but want to move towards healthy conflict and unity.
Three Ways We Approach Conflict
Most of us approach conflict in one of three ways:
- Avoid: They will just leave it, hoping the conflict goes away on its own.
- Accommodate: Instead of engaging in conflict, you give in to what the other person wants.
- Compete: This is the person that must win at all costs—they rush into conflict to “win.”
These are our “default modes” and it can be tough to break out of them! But knowing the starting point is the best way to grow and learn.
Tips to Manage Conflict
Healthy conflict takes some work—it doesn’t always come naturally! We are more likely to default into our natural conflict-management modes (avoid, accommodate, or compete) unless we are intentional about building healthy conflict-management strategies.
Here are seven tips to manage conflict with colleagues:
- Know your style. Of the three types of conflict, which one do you follow? All of us have a tendency towards one of these three conflict management styles.
- Understand your colleagues. Understanding where others are coming from can help you move forward productively. If you are the type of person who moves towards conflict to win an argument, you’ll need to be sensitive to the person who’s uncomfortable in conflict.
- Try not to personalize it. Try to focus on the ideas at hand, not the person behind them. Personalization happens when the word “you” is used a lot. Instead, focus on “I” language (i.e., “I feel this way,” or “I think it should be like this”).
- Listen well. Sometimes we just hear what we want to hear when in the middle of conflict. It’s important to listen to all the other aspects of what’s going on to understand the whole situation. Using good listening skills means we can catch our biases and truly listen to engage, and not just to “win” the argument.
- Communicate in person. Email can make it hard to capture the full nuance of what someone’s saying—it’s so easy to misconstrue written words! If you can’t meet in person, talk on the phone. You’ll get more data to manage the conflict when you hear the other person’s voice and don’t have to jump to conclusions about what they’re saying.
- Use body language to manage conflict. One of the worst things we can do is sit down face-to-face, because it tends to escalate the confrontation. If you are side-by-side, however, it’s easier to remain calm. It’s a way to “be on the same team” rather than working against each other.
- Realize there is a continuum. People mistakenly think that if they engage in conflict, it will go to the extreme and initiate fighting and shouting. So, they’d rather stay silent. But conflict is on a continuum, so you need to slowly introduce some areas of conflict that will lead to fruitful discussion of ideas.
As we said, this may not come naturally! But the more you practice and implement healthy conflict management strategies, the more productive and effective you’ll be. Healthy conflict can be a catalyst for creativity and growth—embrace it!
This week’s EQ Workout
For this week’s EQ workout choose one of the seven tips from the list above and take some time to explore it in the coming days. I would love to know any of your insights or discoveries.
You may also like this YouTube video I recently recorded which explores conflict on teams.