Published in Non-Clinical

A Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

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9 min read

Conflict, in one form or another, is a natural part of working with others, but knowing how to resolve that conflict in a healthy way makes all the difference.

A Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace
Conflicts at your job can be terribly distracting, frustrating and even upsetting. On top of the aforementioned, workplace conflicts can detract from concentration and the ability of employees to perform their jobs well. Rather than complaining to others, avoiding the issue, or acting rudely toward those involved, you should come up with a plan for resolution. This article will provide you with numerous tactics and protocols to utilize in times of office conflict. Hopefully by considering these methods, you will not have to suffer under undesirable circumstances for long.

1. Consider a candid conversation

If the offense is minor, and it is at all possible that the coworker is not aware of the issue they are causing, you may consider a one-on-one conversation before going further. Concisely and clearly make them aware of the problem you are having. Think about what you would like to say and how you would like to phrase it beforehand. Be honest about what you feel is going on, and be polite in the way you present it. If you can think of a viable solution or alternative to present concurrently that would be appropriate as well.

Identify your objective

What is your main objective in the situation. Are you disagreeing on who should lead a project? Are you trying to have a budget approved for a marketing idea? Identify the root issue and pinpoint what outcome you are hoping for. Also brainstorm if there are multiple routes by which you could achieve your goal. Be amenable and flexible to any compromises that would allow you to achieve your main objective. Even if it not via your original plan of action, another route toward your goal may be an equally viable (or maybe even better) option.

Get some perspective

Once you have established your main objective, identify what you think the other party’s main objective is. Listen actively to their complaints and acknowledge that you have done so; they should do the same. According to Harvard Business Review, the best practice is to hear the other person out then repeat the information back in a short summary to make sure that you are both on the same page. This technique is also called “validating the argument.” Once each party has acknowledged the other’s concerns, values, and motivations, you are both in a good place to continue on to the resolution.

Don’t get emotional

When a conflict escalates, our emotions often overreact as a defense mechanism. Emotional arguing is usually fueled by a feeling of being treated unfairly, feeling embarrassed, or being frustrated. When you allow your emotions to become involved you may say or do things in the heat of the moment that are neither necessarily productive nor appropriate. Instinctual reactions often propel us to attack the other person rather than the actual idea which isn’t productive for anyone. If you feel the emotional monster creeping out try to distance yourself mentally or physically to get yourself in check. Excuse yourself from the area if needed should things get heated and respond once you are both calm.

Think about your body language

Give the other person your full attention during the conversation. Make eye contact to show you are acknowledging what they are saying. Try not to keep your arms folded and crossed in front of you as this exudes a “closed-off” attitude. Even if you become upset, don’t storm away or turn your back to the other person while they are still speaking. As alluded to earlier, if you really need to step away from the situation excuse yourself and state that you will revisit the conversation at such-and-such a time so that you can be more productive; then make sure to follow up!

Company culture can play a big role in how comfortable team members are with these conversations. CovalentCareers' COO, Brett Kestenbaum, is here to talk about why a good company culture is key.

2. You might need to ask for help

There are situations in which you may not feel completely comfortable confronting the other party, and that is okay! A few situations worth noting are:
  1. If you are facing any type of discrimination or harassment you may consider this as a primary route.
  2. If you suspect the confrontation could become aggressive due to the personalities of those involved, turning to a supervisor may be the better option.
  3. If you have already tried having a polite and honest conversation and there has been no improvement in the situation, it is time to take the next step.

Document examples

You want to have solid and specific documentation of the action or situation you are taking to your supervisor. You should document what happened, when it occurred and how often it occurred. Most importantly, document what impacts the actions had emotionally, physically, and/or professionally on you (or others). Consider whether you see a feasible way to mitigate the situation. If you have a mediation session scheduled, you may also want to outline your talking points so that emotions or nerves don’t steer you off topic.

The art of compromise

An appropriate mediator may be your manager or human resource representative. A good mediator does not take sides or accept manipulation or emotional dramatization during a resolution session. Solutions should be based on facts and rationale alone. The supervisor should give each party a certain time to speak and explain their perspective on the issue, then facilitate a fair resolution. The intention of each party and the impact of each person’s actions on the other should be pinpointed; it is often a disconnect or a misunderstanding of the aforementioned that leads to conflict in the first place.

“You can’t always get what you want”

You should present your case professionally and thoroughly, but you also have to understand that you aren’t always entirely in the right. Show your supervisor that you have already spent time identifying your goal, seeing the issue from the other person's perspective, and brainstormed any possible solutions and/or compromises. Keep in mind that you may not get everything you wanted to fulfill your own personal agenda. If you receive some tools to support reaching your end objective, that is still a success. Either way, do not let the outcome degrade you emotional or physical health; move on and make any changes or adjustments that you need to in order to move forward.

3. What if you are on the receiving end of confrontation?

None of us are perfect! So what if a coworker confronts you or a supervisor approaches you to mediate a conflict you are involved in. Stay calm! Think about your role in the situation, how your ideas may have come across or been received by the other party. If you did something obviously wrong and upset or offended the person, just take responsibility and apologize.

Conflict can be especially challenging to resolve when working across multiple disciplines. Here are 5 Things to Know When Working with An Interdisciplinary Healthcare Team.

If something was misconstrued or the intent was different than the outcome, calmly explain your side of the story. If you promise your supervisor or coworker you will work to improve a certain situation, you should follow up in a week or two for feedback. Try to use the situation to build better self-awareness and communication for the future.

4. Don’t let the situation become toxic

No one expects you to be friends with every single one of your coworkers. They do, however, expect you to be able to work together and collaborate on professional matters. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable! Leaving large conflicts unresolved leads to resentment and frustration. It can also create barriers between coworkers preventing successful professional endeavors and collaboration in the future.

5. Still dreading addressing the conflict?

You’re not alone! Workplace conflict resolution is unpleasant for everyone involved and it is normal to be frustrated, bothered, nervous, and/or scared. However trying it may be, addressing a conflict and being able to let go and move forward is in everyone’s best interest. It's important to keep in mind though that productive conflict resolution and problem solving actually promotes team growth in the long-term by shedding light on new approaches and perspectives.
Conflict resolution is one of the most difficult workplace skills to develop and it takes practice. As you go forward in your career, I would urge you to spend some time reflecting back on situations once they are resolved. Think about your actions and reactions; review what you did well and what you can try to improve upon next time. The sooner you have some practice in conflict-resolution under your belt, the sooner you can quell the apprehensions related to conflicts in the future.
Danielle Kalberer, OD, FAAO
About Danielle Kalberer, OD, FAAO

Dr. Danielle Kalberer is an optometrist practicing on Long Island, NY. She attended the SUNY College of Optometry, completed residency at the Northport VAMC, is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is Board Certified in Medical Optometry.

Danielle Kalberer, OD, FAAO
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