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3 Ways to Handle Conflict at Work
None of us are immune from conflict at work. You may find yourself in an argument with a colleague about the way a project is executed, or butt heads with leadership about a strategic initiative, or maybe you find your temper flaring because Larry took the last cup of coffee and didn’t brew another pot…again.
If handled properly, conflict is constructive. It’s a necessary tool for professional growth and team advancement because it provides an outlet to share different ideas and opinions.
But It’s the handling it properly part that can be tricky.
The reason conflict at work is tricky is because it’s emotional. When we invest time and effort into something, we become attached to it. Not to mention that in a team setting, your passion and priorities aren’t necessarily the same as the passion and priorities of your co-workers or your leaders. This creates an environment that is ripe for conflict. And with conflict comes a heightened state of emotion.
In a heightened state of emotion, the ability to objectively solve a problem is greatly diminished. Emotion takes the front seat, hijacking body language, tone of voice and impulse control. And yet, even in these circumstances, some of us will still try and address the issue head on.
Spoiler alert: that doesn’t work.
Instead, the best time to work through an issue is when all parties are emotionally neutral.
The good news is that you have 3 options to handle these emotionally charged situations in the moment they occur. The choice you make determines the success or failure of the outcome.
- Problem Solve: (Commonly used, but NOT RECOMMENDED) to effectively work through an issue, all parties must be emotionally neutral. If you or anyone else in the conversation is in a heightened state of emotion, rational decision making is out the window and things can quickly become centered on the person instead of the problem.
- Listen: In an emotionally charged situation, each person involved is most interested in being heard and understood. This is especially important for leaders to keep in mind. You don’t have to solve the problem in that moment, but you can help defuse an emotional situation simply by listening and being empathetic.
- Leave: If you have identified that it’s not a good time to problem solve and you’re not ready to listen, the best thing you can do is leave the situation. Feel free to use whatever excuse is appropriate like “I’m sorry, let’s talk about this a little later, I forgot I had a conference call in five minutes” Or even the tried and true, “I’m running to rest room, I’ll be back in a moment.” Whatever it takes to remove you from that situation for long enough to neutralize your emotions, regroup and come back ready to face the challenge.
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