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Conflict resolution strategies for the workplace

Conflict is unavoidable. Whenever two or more people are in close quarters, whether professionally or personally, situations are bound to arise where differences come to a head. In some situations, these challenges can be easily resolved. But in others, more intense discussion and problem-solving is required. In these situations, a peaceful agreement may require conflict resolution. 

While conflict is a normal aspect of working in any industry, there are steps you can take to make the process as effective - and painless - as possible. 

Prepare for the conversation
When you find yourself in a disagreement with a co-worker, start by taking a step back. If possible, it's best to avoid doing conflict resolution in the spur of the moment. When tensions run high, it will be difficult to reach a compromise. So when an argument arises, put a pause on the conversation and set aside time later in the day or soon after to revisit the topic once everyone has cooled off a bit.

To prepare for the conversation, first try to identify what the argument is really about. Harvard Law School recommended looking beneath the surface to find the root issues that are at the center of the conflict. That's what you should focus on. 

Before you even meet, accept the fact that you're unlikely to receive everything that you want from the situation and start thinking about potential solutions to which you could both agree.  

Conflict is unavoidable in the workplace, but handling it correctly can help you maintain a positive working environment.  Conflict is unavoidable in the workplace, but handling it correctly can help you maintain a positive working environment.

Be intentional to play fair
During conflict resolution, it can be easy to stick to your own perspective. However, you're unlikely to make any progress if you can't think about how the issue looks to the other person. Recognize that you're both bringing a bias into the conversation and try to do your best to look outside your own agenda. 

Your attitude during the conversation can make all the difference. Relationship researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., told The Huffington Post that physical or verbal abuse is never acceptable in these situations. Gottman reported that specific examples of off-limits behavior include the following:

  • Personal criticism
  • Insults
  • Eye rolls and other nonverbal signs of disrespect
  • Stonewalling the other person
  • Viewing yourself as the victim

Finally, make sure that you're truly listening to the other person and trying to understand how he or she feels. If you're so busy preparing your next response that you don't listen to what is being said, the person is likely to feel disrespected and you'll have a hard time coming to an agreeable resolution.

Check out our course on Conflict Resolution for more advice on how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner.