Principles for Addressing Workplace Conflict

The boss is always right so they say. A second pilot got re-trained to be assertive reducing airline crushes among Asian airlines. Document your outcomes and explain at length your course of action. In court, you have to show chronological order of events, emotions, reactions (positive or negative) and consideration to others.

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Principles for Addressing Workplace Conflict

Common and ineffective strategies to deal with workplace disputes include:

  • Avoidance
  • Indirect communication in the form of complaints and/or gossip,
  • Bartering
  • Emotional reactions
  • Righteousness: holding on to positions

Principles to Help:

  • Pay attention to your emotions and how they influence you. Realize that emotions are part of the workplace and that negative emotions can fuel the conflict. Acknowledge your emotion and then determine its source. Is it based on a bad experience or a past interaction that may be influencing the current situation? Is it based on something you have no control over? Take the time to deescalate before moving forward.
  • Consciously decide how to respond to a conflict situation. Most people remember how you respond to a situation rather than what happened. While you often do not have control of many situations, you can choose how to respond to others to help reduce work conflict and stress. By responding appropriately to a conflict situation, you take responsibility for your actions. Refer to Understanding Conflict Handling Styles to discover the advantages and disadvantages for each style.
  • Give yourself time to prepare. You should address difficult issues after you have had time to organize your thoughts. Take the time to understand and be clear about what your real concerns. Ask yourself, “What is the underlying reason or the ‘why’ behind what I want?” Refer to Focus on Interests (Needs), Not Positions (Wants) for more information.
  • Listen, Reflect, Inquire. Do you have enough time to listen? Is the setting appropriate? Make good eye contact and keep your facial and body expressions in check. Listening is hard when emotions are high. Cool down first. Do not listen only to hear what you expect the other person to say or to confirm your viewpoint. Listen with an open mind. Help the other person feel heard. Empathize. Ask open ended questions to gather information. Refer to Listening Effectively for tips on how to listen well.
  • Use “I” messages to express your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Focus on and clarify your issues, feelings, or opinions. “I feel frustrated when you come in late because I am not able to end my shift on time,” rather than “You are always late.” “I” messages place the responsibility on you and include three components: 1) your personal reaction/feeling, 2) a description of the situation/action, and 3) the impact/consequence from your perspective. “You” messages focus the blame on the other person and they are likely to elicit a negative or defensive response.
  • Frame the issue in terms of interests. Frame the discussion by being direct about your interests. Ask powerful questions to better define the problem for the two of you to address together. The best questions are open-ended questions rather than questions that require a “yes” or “no” reply or a short answer. Good questions include “What would that look like?” “How would that work in this situation?” “How do you want to move forward?” Refer to How to Identify Interests for help on questions.
  • Focus on what you can change – the future. Discussion about the past and/or arguing about examples may be necessary for understanding, but it is not to convince the other person you are right or to defend yourself. Focus on how you can both work more productively in the future.
  • Recognize that other viewpoints are possible and likely. Although you feel differently about the situation, the other person’s feelings are real and legitimate to them. Denying their existence is likely to escalate the situation. It is difficult to find solutions without agreement on the problem. If you do not understand the other person’s viewpoint, you run the risk of not solving the right problem which could make the conflict worse.
  • Brainstorm creative options. By involving the other person in resolving the conflict, you gain his or her commitment and develop a stronger working relationship. Being open-minded to solutions expands the universe that can bring you relief.

Source: CDR Associates,Conflict Resolution for Managers and Leaders, John Wiley & Sons, 2007 and Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan,Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Understanding Conflict Handling Styles

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