Managers responded in a recent research report by Robert Half International that an average of 18 percent of their time is spent arbitrating conflicts between co-workers. That amounts to an annual time expenditure of 9 weeks. With that statistic in mind, it’s a safe bet that if you are looking for a way to impress your boss and stand out from your colleagues, a great way to do it is to adeptly deal with interoffice conflict when the need arises and do whatever it takes to keep problem issues from escalating to management level.
When dealing with problems in the workplace (or anywhere), consider several approaches that may mitigate hostility and promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict at hand. First off, give other people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t immediately assume an individual is acting with the worst intentions in mind. Much more likely, poor choices were made based on miscommunication, overwork, or accidental oversight. Approach the issue from the viewpoint that a negative outcome was not the result of a personal vendetta. When discussing the issue with a co-worker, try to remain neutral and not let emotions control the direction of the conversation.
A great way to get a different perspective on the issue is the tried and true “put yourself into the other person’s shoes” technique. Try to understand the other priorities and pressures your co-worker is facing in addition to the bungled behavior at the root of a problem. Putting yourself into a position to feel empathy for another person can help you better understand his or her state of mind that might have led to a mistakes besides outright maliciousness.
Workplace tension is often caused by basic misunderstandings; especially when conveying instructions for a complex project or other task. Before delegating any assignment to a co-worker, meet with the individual and clarify the precise responsibilities that person is taking on for his or her tasks. Afterward, periodically check in on progress to make sure instructions are being followed and to prevent problems from occurring from the start.
An easy way to escalate a minor dispute into a full blown argument is to use destructive criticism and name calling. When (not if) disagreements arise, keep criticism constructive and remain supportive. Keeping an even tone and using neutral wording are the primary means of avoiding tension buildup and the development of resentment. Bottom line: be tactful at all times.
A key tactic to keeping problems from reaching your manager is to resolve any conflict rapidly. Don’t wait around for the other person to hold out an olive branch. Once your emotions have settled, politely ask to meet with your co-worker and focus on finding a solution to the problem. Sometimes the resolution can be as simple as apologizing or being forgiving. Other times, particularly uncompromising people may not be willing to cooperate in dispelling tension. Especially rude or stubborn people may leave you no other choice than to escalate the issue to a supervisor. Despite the inevitable presence of these people in the workplace, most disagreements can be solved through simple diplomacy and mutual empathy.