How to Manage Conflict

How to Manage Conflict

You might be wondering how you can avoid conflict, especially in the workplace, but the better question is: how can you manage it? Conflict is a natural part of life, but you can overcome it with compassion and respect. Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to managing conflict. Once you know how to solve conflicts, you'll see them as an opportunity for change and better communication—whether with yourself or others!

[Edit]Things You Should Know

  • Identify the source of the conflict first. This will help you reflect on the problem, brainstorm solutions, and come up with a plan to resolve things.
  • Stay calm no matter what. Listen to the other person before sharing how you feel about the situation and use neutral language to keep things civil.
  • Come up with multiple solutions and work together to compromise and forgive each other. You might agree to disagree or ask a third party for help.

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Analyze the conflict.

  1. Finding out the source of a conflict is the key to solving it. Workplace conflicts can seem very complicated when in reality, there are typically 1 or 2 main causes. Think carefully about the situation to pinpoint the central issues at the heart of the conflict. Identifying the root cause will allow you to better articulate your concerns and focus your perspective.[1]
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    • Ask yourself a few questions. What event triggered the conflict? Are you angry, and why? What do you want but aren't getting? Is your anger justified, or are you overreacting? Identify the key players involved as well.
    • For example, if you’re upset that a coworker has left early several days in a row, the root cause of the conflict could be your frustration at feeling like you’ve been doing more than your fair share or the work.
    • Make a list of the issues at hand and study the ones that overlap. If the root cause of the conflict isn't obvious, overlapping issues can often tell you exactly what it is.
    • You might have an intrapersonal (internal) conflict instead. It's also vital to analyze conflicts that exist within yourself. Try journaling to keep track of your feelings and pinpoint the source of your inner turmoil.

[Edit]Stay calm and focus on the common goal.

  1. Keeping a level head prevents conflict from escalating further. Whether you're directly involved in the conflict or in the middle of a conflict between other people, keep calm to ensure the situation doesn't escalate. The common goal in any conflict should be to manage and resolve the problem fairly; make this your priority and ensure everyone else is on board too.[2]
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    • Acknowledge the conflict rather than avoiding it. Conflict can only be solved when addressed directly and embraced as an opportunity for growth!
    • If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, consider taking a step back before confronting the problem. Conflicts are less likely to be solved rationally when either side is flooded with emotions.[3]
    • When managing a conflict for coworkers or subordinates, reassure them that you'll be as objective as possible while you work together.

[Edit]Separate the person from the problem.

  1. Resolve conflict by focusing on the issue, not the person involved. View the problem as a specific incident or behavior instead of blaming the other person's character as a whole. This makes the conflict feel less personal for both parties and thus makes it easier to solve. It can also salvage your relationship with the other person, where otherwise you might decide not to work with them anymore.[4]
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    • For example, if someone in the office is being disruptive, focus on minimizing the behavior rather than accusing the person responsible. Say, “There were a lot of disruptions today,” rather than, “You’re disruptive and rude.”

[Edit]Be an active listener.

  1. Active listening promotes positive, open, and respectful communication. In social situations, it can be a powerful tool to ensure you understand what someone else is saying. Give the other person time to talk uninterrupted and listen non-judgmentally. Maintain steady (but non-aggressive) eye contact and focus on them without trying to think of a rebuttal while they speak.[5]
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    • Save all questions and comments until they've fully outlined their position and finished speaking.
    • Avoid body language that suggests judgment or anger, such as eye-rolling, tightly crossed arms or legs, or smirking. Being non-judgmental will make the other person feel like they can trust you.
    • Encourage the person with simple affirming comments or gestures. A quick nod or a simple "Mmhm" can let them know you're paying attention to them.
    • Show compassion for the other person's position. They'll be more agreeable if they see you're trying to understand where they're coming from.

[Edit]Share your position.

  1. Be specific to help the other person understand your perspective. Let the other person know how you feel, the specific problem, and its impact on you. Use "I"-based statements to keep the conversation focused on your needs and emotions. Then, list a few specific scenarios that illustrate your point so the other person can see things from your point of view.[6]
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    • Start "I"-based statements with "I feel...", "I think..." You could tell a coworker, "I feel like my ideas are sometimes overlooked," instead of the more accusatory alternative, "You never listen to my ideas!"
    • Specific examples can drive your point home. If you feel overlooked at work, you could say, "I was disappointed when my suggestions weren’t included in yesterday’s project notes."
    • In the case of an intrapersonal conflict, take the time to acknowledge your own feelings. Be aware of what you're feeling and why, even negative emotions like sadness, loneliness, frustration, and anger.

[Edit]Use neutral language.

  1. Neutral language keeps the discussion objective and non-judgmental. Inflammatory language (like profanity, name-calling, and put-downs) only escalates the conflict. Instead, keep the discussion less emotional by using objective language. Rephrase negative statements into neutral comments and ask sincere questions to get your coworker’s side of the story and use a calm, even tone of voice.[7]
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    • An example of inflammatory language would be telling a colleague, “You tried to undermine me in front of our boss! You’re a backstabber who wants to make me look bad.”
    • Rephrase this by saying something like, “I’m wondering why my presentation was interrupted yesterday; I really wanted to show the supervisor my work. Could you help me understand what happened?”
    • Use lots of neutral phrases like “Help me understand…”, “I wonder if…”, or, “How can we solve this?” Neutral language includes any phrasing that doesn’t attack the other person.
    • If your colleague uses inflammatory language, don't hesitate to ask them to stop or get a mediator to help. Be polite but firm, keep a cool head, and don't let them rile you up too.

[Edit]Reflect on the situation.

  1. Show all parties that you hear and understand their concerns. Often, conflict stems from one party feeling as though they're not being heard or understood. Take time throughout your conversation to reiterate what the other person says. This will help you clarify your understanding of the situation and convey to the other person that you do hear them.[8]
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    • Say you have a conflict with a coworker, and they've explained their position to you. You could say, ​​"To clarify, you feel you were overlooked for the new project and would like to be a part of the planning committee."
    • Once you reflect on the situation, let the other person confirm or correct you. Either way, this ensures that you're both on the same page.
    • If you reach an impasse, ask the other person for a break so you can think over the situation further and reanalyze your perspective on the matter. Specify a day and time when you can both pick up the discussion.
    • Consider sending your coworker an objective summary of the last discussion. This reiterates your understanding of the situation and keeps both of you accountable.

[Edit]Work together to compromise and find a solution.

  1. Cooperation encourages everyone to stop tossing around the blame. Resolve the conflict by working together and brainstorming solutions to the conflict that addresses everyone's concerns. Write down your ideas and see if there's one solution that both of you find fair and reasonable. A good resolution usually involves compromise—meeting halfway so that you both leave satisfied.[9]
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    • Be creative! Come up with multiple solutions that all address your common goal of resolving the situation fairly. Think outside the box to find the best option for everyone.
    • For example, if you disagree with a coworker over the style of a joint project, put your heads together and figure out what you particularly like about each style. Can you combine styles and salvage your favorite parts of each?
    • While compromise is a good route, remember that you shouldn't have to compromise your integrity to make someone else happy.
    • For an intrapersonal conflict, brainstorm solutions and write them down. Take an honest look at the situation and weigh your options before deciding.

[Edit]Make a resolution plan.

  1. A plan defines each party's responsibilities and prevents more conflict. After finding a solution everyone can agree on, sit down together and figure out what you'll all do to resolve the dispute. How will the immediate problem be fixed? What other practices might help avoid future conflict and maintain positive communication? Ensure everyone involved collaborates on the win-win solution.[10]
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    • As you put together a plan, let everyone know you appreciate their efforts and that you're willing to get together soon to check on progress.

[Edit]Pick your battles.

  1. Not all conflicts are worth holding onto at the cost of your energy. Some issues can't be solved to the satisfaction of both parties, especially if one person rejects any negotiation. In those cases, ask yourself how much the issue at the core of the conflict matters to you. Are you willing to concede or keep dialoguing to reach a different resolution? Is this conflict worth your time and energy?[11]
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    • If you decide the conflict isn't worth your energy, give the other person a simple concession. You don't need to back down if you're justifiably frustrated, but you don't need to fight a battle that's more trouble than it's worth.
    • Conceding doesn't mean saying, "You're right, and I'm wrong." Instead, say, "I've thought about the situation, and I think you feel more strongly about it than I do. I'm willing back you up and put the issue to rest."

[Edit]Agree to disagree.

  1. Focus on finding a solution rather than determining who is “right.” Remember that truth is relative; what one person considers true is not necessarily true for someone else. Look for mutually agreeable solutions with your coworker rather than arguing your opinions. In the end, it doesn't matter who is right—and placing blame drags out the conflict.[12]
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    • For example, consider the differing testimony of various coworkers who have heard about the same conflict from several different sources. Truth depends on a person's point of view.

[Edit]Forgive each other.

  1. Forgiveness is the easiest path towards future cooperation. Apologize if you have wronged each other somehow, and find a place that allows you to truly forgive each other. Even if you can't completely forget what happened, forgiveness is the most mature route, allowing you to put the conflict behind you fully. Be honest and genuine with the other person and accept their apology if they offer one.[13]
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    • If you can't forgive the other person, then at the very least maintain a distantly polite or professional demeanor when you have to see or work with them.
    • It takes strong character and compassion to forgive someone. If you can forgive someone who hurt you, be proud of yourself for moving on from the conflict!

[Edit]Ask a third party for help.

  1. A trusted confidante can give you confidential, objective advice. If you feel that you're getting nowhere (or things are getting worse), ask for help managing the conflict. Consult a manager, seek professional counseling, or ask a close mutual friend for help. A third party can offer a better perspective in situations where the people involved are so emotionally invested that it's hard to think straight.[14]
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    • Generally, you should always deal directly with the person you're in conflict with and keep any discussions confidential. However, a third party is sometimes necessary if the conflict escalates.
    • In situations where the conflict is internal (intrapersonal), feel free to consult a friend, family member, or counselor whenever you think it's necessary. Outside advice will help you look at the problem objectively.

[Edit]Build up more positive relationships.

  1. Collaborate and bond with co-workers to prevent future conflict. After successfully managing a conflict, offer them sincere thanks for working with you. From that point forward, continue to acknowledge and compliment their progress. Build a more positive relationship between the two of you over time and communicate regularly to prevent more conflicts.[15]
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    • The next time you work on something together, celebrate the progress you've both made. "This has been great! I'm delighted we got the chance to collaborate again."
    • Offer the other person a compliment on their work every so often. "That presentation was really well done! You clearly worked hard on it."

[Edit]References

[Edit]Quick Summary

  1. https://www.ohsu.edu/school-of-medicine/mentoring/resolving-conflict
  2. https://www.edmonds.edu/counseling/documents/Conflict.pdf
  3. [v161039_b01]. 6 September 2018.
  4. https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/negotiation-strategies.html
  5. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/what_did_you_say_the_importance_of_being_an_active_listener
  6. https://www.edmonds.edu/counseling/documents/Conflict.pdf
  7. https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/getting-started-managing-classroom-conflict
  8. https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/getting-started-managing-classroom-conflict
  9. https://www.police.uci.edu/how-do-i/_brochures/conflict_management.pdf
  10. https://www.ohsu.edu/school-of-medicine/mentoring/resolving-conflict
  11. https://www.edmonds.edu/counseling/documents/Conflict.pdf
  12. https://www.edmonds.edu/counseling/documents/Conflict.pdf
  13. https://www.police.uci.edu/how-do-i/_brochures/conflict_management.pdf
  14. https://www.police.uci.edu/how-do-i/_brochures/conflict_management.pdf
  15. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/emotional-intelligence-at-work.htm
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