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March 2018

Resolving Office Conflict


When faced with a difficult challenge at work, it often helps to grab a colleague and talk it out. Since everyone has a different personality and sees the world in a different light, this can be a great, productive strategy to problem solving.

But what happens when the problem you have is with another person? A common thought is to approach a third party and say, “I just need to vent, to get this off my chest.” The drawback with handling
your problem this way is that it now becomes gossip, and gossip is a cancer in any office or social environment. It builds walls and divides teams.

Conflict resolution is a major subject in many offices and workplaces. Every office has disagreement, but not every office handles it the same way. That’s why it’s a topic that should be discussed clearly with your team. Workplaces are full of diverse personalities who communicate in unique ways, and these differences are what make conflict resolution an uncomfortable and
touchy subject.

The first step to successfully deal with conflict is to bring both parties together to attempt a meeting of the minds. The participants involved need to sit down together and talk it out.

But prior to this meeting, some ground rules need to be explained. The following are four basic principles of successful conflict resolution.

1. Each side must listen fully to the other before responding. Often, when one party is explaining
something that’s bothering them, the second party will feel defensive and jump in to justify their actions by explaining why they did XYZ. There’s nothing more frustrating than when someone interrupts you, especially when trying to resolve a problem. The first person must listen to everything the other person has to say, and then the second person will have their opportunity
to speak uninterrupted. This process is repeated until both sides have sufficiently made their cases.

2. Identify the issues clearly, professionally and concisely. Unless the issue is identified, a resolution can’t be found. As an example: This morning Betty came into work, threw her purse on her desk and snapped at Sally when Sally said, “Good morning.” The reason Betty snapped was that she got a frustrating text from her son saying that he forgotten to bring his homework to school. This has nothing to do with Sally, yet the frustration was taken out on her, and this caused tension between the two of them the rest of the day.

In some cases, this kind of tension can simmer and slowly build to a boil, making it extremely important to have open communication with your co-workers. You may not always know what’s going on in another person’s life, so try not to jump to conclusions.

3. When both parties meet to discuss their issues, they are only allowed to use “I” statements.
“I felt ignored at the meeting this morning when I was trying to explain the details about Mrs. Jones.” Framing an issue you have with another person with an “I” statement helps to bring their defenses down so that a resolution can be found. ‘You’ statements tend to put people on the
defensive because they feel as though their integrity is under attack.

“YOU always put the instruments back wrong.”

“YOU never take out the trash.”

When someone starts to get on the defensive, they stop hearing everything important that’s being said. Instead, they focus on how to defend their integrity and not on working toward a mutual understanding.

On the other hand, “I” statements diffuse anger and assault.

“I get upset when I can’t find the instruments I need.”

“I feel demotivated when the chart is ripped out of my hands.”

“It hurts MY feelings when a harsh tone is used when asking for a favor.”

When people bring the problem back to how it makes them feel, it’ll bring guards down and a productive conversation can then begin.

4. The final and most important rule is: no personal attacks, name-calling or finger pointing. These are sure-fire ways to get another person on the defensive, and there’s just no need for petty attacks in a professional work environment. When voices rise, the control of the conversation is almost always lost. This prevents both parties from being able to continue the conversation with level heads. As soon as voices get louder or tears start to flow, each side needs to pause—and maybe even step aside for a few moments—to regain their composure so that a civil conversation may continue.

Having conflict in an office is okay; in fact, it’s actually healthy. However, preventing normal conflict from turning into heated warfare is crucial to avoiding division in an office. If a resolution cannot be found by the two parties sitting down and talking it out by themselves, then it is time to bring in a mediator. Often, this will be the team leader or office manager. Whoever it is, he or she needs to remain as neutral as Switzerland. The mediator cannot and should not pick sides, and must abide by the same ground rules.

Everyone wants to work in a happy, peaceful environment, and with these ground rules in place, most conflict can be satisfactorily resolved.

Chris Ciardello is a practice management consultant with Global Team Solutions.


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