Misunderstandings and communication problems remain one of the most common sources of workplace strife, and interpersonal difficulties are magnified when conflicting work styles coexist in one setting. Generational differences (baby boomers vs. GenX-ers), personal management styles, educational background, and cultural diversity are all potential sources of office misunderstandings.
While conflict is inevitable, it need not ruin your workday or cause unbearable stress. Try these conflict resolution tips to make your work environment a less stressful, more productive place:
- Be specific in formulating your complaints. "I'm never invited to meetings" is not as effective as "I believe I would have been able to contribute some ideas at last Thursday's marketing meeting."
- Resist the temptation to involve yourself in conflicts that do not directly involve you or your responsibilities. Even if someone has clearly been wronged, allow him or her to resolve the situation as he/she chooses.
- Try to depersonalize conflicts. Instead of a "me versus you" mentality, visualize an "us versus the problem" scenario. This is not only a more professional attitude, but it will also improve productivity and is in the best interests of the company.
- Be open and listen to another's point of view and reflect back to the person as to what you think you heard. This important clarification skill leads to less misunderstanding, with the other person feeling heard and understood. Before explaining your own position, try to paraphrase and condense what the other is saying into one or two sentences. Start with, "So you're saying that..." and see how much you really understand about your rival's position. You may find that you're on the same wavelength but having problems communicating your ideas.
- Don't always involve your superiors in conflict resolution. You'll quickly make the impression that you are unable to resolve the smallest difficulties.
- If an extended discussion is necessary, agree first on a time and place to talk. Confronting a coworker who's with a client or working on a deadline is unfair and unprofessional. Pick a time when you're both free to concentrate on the problem and its resolution. Take it outside and away from the group of inquisitive coworkers if they're not involved in the problem. Don't try to hold negotiations when the office gossip can hear every word.
- Limit your complaints to those directly involved in the workplace conflict. Character assassination is unwarranted. Remember, you need to preserve a working relationship rather than a personal one, and your opinion of a coworker's character is generally irrelevant. "He missed last week's deadline" is OK; "he's a total idiot" is not.
- Know when conflict isn't just conflict. If conflict arises due to sexual, racial, or ethnic issues, or if someone behaves inappropriately, that's not conflict, it's harassment. Take action and discuss the problem with your supervisor or human resources department.
- Consider a mediator if the problem gets out of control, or if the issue is too emotional to resolve in a mutual discussion. At this step, your supervisor should be involved. You can consider using a neutral third party mediator within your own company (human resources if available) or hiring a professional counselor.
- Take home point: It's not all about you - You may think it's a personal attack, but maybe your co-worker is just having a bad day. Take time to think BEFORE you speak in response to an insensitive remark. It may be that saying nothing is the best response.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
CDC.gov. Stress At Work.