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Conflict: How to Cope and Conquer

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Workplace conflicts are normal and expected, and can even be healthy. When left to worsen or fester, however, they can result in a work environment that feels like a minefield – or worse, an outright war zone. Here's what you can do to minimize your involvement in workplace conflicts, as well as maximize your ability to resolve them if they cannot be prevented.

The Two Types of Conflict
There are generally two types of workplace conflict: Work-related and Personal. Work-related conflict arises when people have opposing ideas, decisions or actions relating directly to the job. Personal conflicts happen when two people simply do not get along, or ‘clash’.

Conflicting ideas in business can be productive, as they often lead to brainstorms which can generate new ideas and approaches. Whether it’s to address a work problem or to generate new concepts, products, services or solutions, when two differing views are used as starting points rather than pitted against each other, they often generate compromises that may be better than the two original premises.

Personal conflicts, on the other hand, are rarely productive. A clash may start with a work-related dispute and then snowball into antagonism. In some cases, employees inexplicably dislike each other from the beginning, and the animosity is left alone instead of nipped at the bud. On an individual level, this type of conflict is stressful, unpleasant and distracting. It can lower workplace morale and compromise productivity. It can even affect your chances of advancement or jeopardize your job.

Working on Work-Related Conflicts
We all want to come up with good ideas that help the organizations or even teams we work in move forward and become more successful. The good and bad news is that there is often more than one good idea – and so we have to remember that, like you other people can feel the same conviction and passion about their suggestions, positions and situations. There are several ways you can resolve and turn around work-related conflicts, including the following approaches:

  • Focus on the issue in all dealings to encourage the other person to do the same.
  • Recognize that other people have different opinions that are just as valid as yours.
  • Work out whether the issue really means that much to you, or whether your personal dislike for the other person has hardened your stance.
  • Decide that your aim is to solve the problem, rather than win the argument. Be prepared to compromise.
  • Push aside feelings or judgments about the other person, and try hard to listen and understand their point of view.
  • Get others to mediate.

Patching Up Personal Conflicts
Simply because we spend so much of our waking hours at work, even the most work-related of matters can turn into a personality clash. Conflicts that begin or continue due to personality clashes often persist indefinitely (and irrationally), which is why it is imperative that we try to put an end to it as soon as we become aware of its presence. Unlike work-related conflicts that pass after a good discussion or even after just a few seconds of calming silence, personal conflicts may call for some behavior or attitude adjustment. Here’s what you can do to make things better for both yourself and your workplace:

  • Decide whether you want to confront the person who is bothering you. It is usually better to air grievances in the open than to let them fester.
  • Speak to the other person calmly, politely and rationally. Focus on the situation and facts, avoiding gossip and personal attacks.
  • Be assertive without being aggressive. Be careful not to express hostility in your posture, facial expression or tone.
  • Listen to the other person carefully: What is he or she trying to say? Be sure you understand their position.
  • Express interest in what the other person is saying. You can acknowledge his or her ideas without necessarily agreeing or submitting. Saying, "I understand that you feel this way. Here's how I feel..." acknowledges both positions.
  • Communicate clearly what you want, offering positive suggestions and recommendations. Be willing to be flexible.
  • Speak to your supervisor if a problem with a difficult co-worker seriously threatens your work, but avoid whining.

Most of us would prefer not to deal with conflict. However, conflict is a part of life, and especially a part of working with other individuals. People skills are important factors that significantly impact your professional success. By learning to handle conflict with grace, maturity and professionalism, you acquire a valuable skill that will always be useful.

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