October 12, 2021 5 min read

Like two opposing storms coming together, workplace conflicts disrupt the natural flow and good vibes of a team. Instead of moving forward, united and strong, workplace conflict puts a full stop to any kind of productivity. It seems everyone and everything is waiting with bated breath to see how it will play out. Which begs the question, when you’re in the middle of it all, how do you resolve the conflict? Let’s explore what it takes to resolve conflict in the workplace with a cool and collected demeanour and get back to what really matters – the task at hand!

Enter Emotional Intelligence

Sometimes certain scenarios can feel bigger than they need to be. Using emotional intelligence, we learn to recognize the difference between a “big deal” and “no big deal”. That’s especially true with any kind of conflict in a work environment. Catching yourself reacting to a situation is a good place to start, but it will take more to truly resolve any workplace problem.

Two professionals at their workstation with one looking down and the other straight ahead.

Developing your emotional intelligence is a huge factor in whether you’ll be able to navigate workplace drama. The ability to assess the situation while remaining clear-headed involves practicing your interpersonal skills, your leadership skills and communication skills. But all those things won’t make a difference if your emotional intelligence needs some work. If you’re having difficulty reading a room, you might want to check in with your feelings and crank up the empathy. Or if you’re noticing the strong emotions a little too much, that can also be an issue. Take a step back and ask yourself: what do they want and how can I help?

Figuring out the Workplace Conflict Type

Putting a name to something usually gives a sense of control back especially if the situation seems to make no sense at first. This is extremely helpful with resolving different types of conflict. How can you fix the issue if you don’t know what it is? It’s easy to chalk up a conflict as an annoyance but that doesn’t defuse the situation, it can just make it worst. 

Being able to assess the workplace conflict at hand requires some careful observation. Here are a few types of conflict and their red flags to look out for:

Poor Communication

We all know how important it is to communicate effectively and it’s a skill that takes a lot of work in all of relationships. Work is no different. It can happen internally with your direct team, cross-departmentally or with third-party vendors or partners. When poor communication strikes, there’s room for error and tons of confusion. Why did Becky assume the ad files were due next Tuesday? Why isn’t that great idea the art team came up with up moving forward yet? Either there’s information missing, misconstrued, or not updated which leaves it open to interpretation.

Recognizing when poor communication is the root of the problem is a win because that’s where the chance to fix it arrives.

Opposite Personalities & Workstyles

Frustrated professional looking at laptop in confusion with hands up.

As much as we’d like to think everyone gets along, that’s impossible – just look at families during the holidays! The ties that bind so to speak can get buried under the misinterpretation of a personality that’s just different from you. A bad joke, a dry comment or anything else that rubs you the wrong way can slowly build mistrust. Suddenly, all these moments build up to a conflict ready to blow without warning.

Taking into consideration someone’s personality will put everything into perspective and require patience on your part. If you know it boils down to a personality divide, it’s time to find the common ground of where your personalities do mesh in order to move forward.

Fear of Change

When change comes knocking on the door, fear is a natural response. Humans are creatures of habit, and we fight oncoming change instinctually and sometimes fiercely. (Have you ever felt the devastation of a changed menu item? It happens.) When change occurs in an organization, it can create tension that’s fast-catching. Look at what’s changing and focus on the benefits. Don’t get stuck in negative or unconstructive thinking. Ask yourself: “Why am I uncomfortable?” That’s a great place to start finding the answer to setting things at ease.

Resetting Workplace Communication

Now that you know of a few conflict types and can recognize them, how do you go about fixing the issue? Knowing how to approach these scenarios is the key along with some other soft skills in your repertoire.

  • Don’t hit snooze on the problem.  It can be tempting to just ignore the issue and hope it will go away on its own. But that just gives the conflict room to grow into something bigger and nastier. Nip it in the bud and address the issue by booking a private meeting or looping in your manager for guidance.
  • Be prepared to actively listen. It’s time to open up the dialogue and let everyone have their say. This way the air is cleared once and for all. Really listen to what’s being said rather than get defensive. If you’re jumping in to say your piece you might miss what the other person is trying to explain.
  • Stay focused on the issue on hand.  Don’t let past grievances rear their heads. There’s a time and place for each conflict to get fully discussed and dissected. Casting in other issues makes it a muddy conversation for everyone to sift through.
    A group of professionals sitting together and reviewing documents.
  • Learn to compromise.  Being open-minded to different solutions is sometimes all it takes. Expressing what you’d be willing to change or modify shows you want to move forward with a cooperative spirit, rather than a combative one. Encourage other parties to talk through the details and best approach. This way, everyone ends up happy once a decision is made.
  • Move forward with thoughtfulness.  Sure, they say history repeats itself, but with some careful awareness the odds are in your favour. You know the signs now to identify and stop brewing conflict in its tracks. It doesn’t get any easier, but you’ve shown you’re thinking it through when it comes to team cooperation. That’s called well-earned trust.
  • That’s some Leadership (Star) Quality

    Even if resolving conflicts in the workplace does get draining, remember there’s a silver lining to it. There’s something to be learnt from any situation, both the good, the bad and everything in between. Simply put, workplace conflict is an opportunity to make some positive changes. By learning how to manage them, by staying positive and mindful, your inner leader will emerge. Remind yourself that conflict is part of everyday life, but it’s how you react that controls the outcome.

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