6 Steps To Resolving Workplace Conflict
Don’t Let Workplace Conflict Ruin Your Business. Photo: istock

Workplace conflict is an energy, productivity, and profit crusher every business, even ones with positive cultures, needs to constantly minimize. As soon as you have two people working together, you have the potential – and inevitability – of conflict.

My former colleague Dan Stevens and I worked together at three companies, founded a company together, and are great friends – when we disagreed, it was over the 10 – 20% of something, never the whole concept. And that 10 – 20% was important! Sometimes one of us just said, “It’s my turn to win” to move on.  We trusted each other to let that be the answer.

Two people figuring out how to overcome disagreement in the stuff of many therapists and relationship coaches. In the office, we’re talking about resolving workplace conflict at scale fast enough so that it doesn’t disrupt workflow.

The key to positive workplace conflict resolution at scale is to address conflict’s inevitability at scale and to not just encourage, but practice, resolution methods. And to practice often –  before a niggling nuisance becomes a full-blown eruption that derails not only the two people involved but everyone else around them.

6 Steps To Resolving Conflict in The Workplace

First, understand that you’re not going to actively enjoy being around everyone you work with (and conversely everyone will not want to be with you). Expecting to like everyone in the workplace or with clients and partners is unrealistic. A positive working relationship does not require being best friends.

Two. Do not let issues percolate. If you let an issue grind on you, you’ll become increasingly inefficient. Operating for a period of time at a low-burn about someone’s behavior creates negative energy for you, which adds to your stress level and increases the likelihood that you act irritably to everyone around you. All of the sudden, you go from being bothered by someone chewing gum with their mouth open, to you being the problem person in the office.

I don’t exaggerate here – I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in my career. I think most people live in the 60% range of irritation when they’re bothered by something or someone. I urge you to move the slider on that to the 20% range – you will be happier, more productive and effective and so will everyone around you. Resolve to resolve issues – big and small – quickly.

And Here’s The Tool That Will Help You Resolve Workplace Conflict

Three. Use a tool to help you figure out what the problem is and how you can work together to resolve it. I use the Circle of Communication, which my executive coach Lori Ogden Moore introduced to me years ago. You can read more about it here.

Fill it out before you confront someone.

Conflict Communication Wheel
Use the Conflict Communication Wheel to Resolve issues quickly and respectfully. Adapted from Lori Ogden Moore.
  1. Start with the fact of the matter – not something subjective like “you’re late,” but the fact that is incontrovertible, such as “you got on the conference call that started at 10 am at 10:15 am.”
  2. Articulate your assessment of the situation. “My assessment is that you don’t think it’s important to be on time and that you have no respect for me, or anyone else.”
  3. State your feelings. Yes, feelings. Negative feelings are the engine of discontent and conflict and every time we don’t acknowledge them we are doing ourselves a disservice. “It makes me angry that you being late means I have to do things twice in order to make sure you’re caught up.”
  4. Make a request that will help resolve the issue. “My request is that you show up on time, ready to go, for meetings and conference calls; that means dialing in at least a minute before the call is supposed to start.”
  5. And finally, make an offer that will help the other person be successful with your request. “My offer to you is to set reminders on the calendar invites so it shows up earlier.” Usually, I find that my assessment was incorrect, and by allowing the other person to understand what got you to your feelings, they are able to reset for a productive conversation with a positive outcome.

This tool is super effective at helping you, and the other person, rationalize and walk through the issue. If you start with “I’m so angry” or “you don’t respect me,” you’ve escalated the issue and put the other person in a situation they need to defend from. The point of the resolution is to find a new positive normal between you and the person with whom you have the conflict, not to duke it out in the conference room.

Four.  Don’t demand a confrontation without notice. Best to ask the person for a time to discuss something that’s on your mind within the next 24 – 48 hours. If she says, “is something wrong,” you can say “well, I want to talk with you about something I think is getting in our way, and I’m sure we can get to a positive outcome.” That way, you’re respecting her schedule, and letting her know it’s something that has to be worked through, and that you’re committed to being positive about it.

Five. Always hold these discussions in person, or by video if someone’s remote. Never use email to state your case or try to resolve a conflict. Email is a wonderful tool but NOT for conflict resolution. You will just make it worse.

The More You Resolve Conflicts Without A 3rd Party The Better It Is For You

The more you can resolve workplace conflict yourself the better it is for you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek input from a trusted source – your manager, your mentor, a friend who will tell you the truth, not just make you feel better. It means that you plan to address the issue fast and will get the input you need to be effective. The more you practice, the better you are at it, the more effective you are, the happier you are.

On Millennial Minded, Double Forte’s career advice no one tells you podcast, last week’s topic was “if you don’t get along with a colleague.” I shared that you’ll never like everyone, and in the workplace, the most important thing is respect and at least a somewhat positive interaction with people you work with every day.  (I also shared the moment in time when I realized that not all my colleagues wanted me to succeed. You’ll need to listen to the episode for that gem.)

Workplace conflict is inevitable. Resolve to resolve it quickly, productively and respectfully and you’ll be on your way to creating a positive and effective work environment for yourself and your team.