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Workplace Conflict Resolutions

Rachel Zupek, writer

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From the guy who thinks his desk is his living room/kitchen/bedroom to the manager who asks for (then steals) your ideas, every worker faces workplace conflict. (And if you don't, let me know where you work -- I want an application.)

As offices become more diverse in age, talent and ethnicity, conflict is inevitably prevalent in the workplace. Lori Coruccini, CEO of Predix Link Inc., a work-force development consulting company, says variances usually arise because of the lack of communication and clarity on how to reach common work goals. Employees don't know how to understand each other based on their individual workplace behavior.

"Depending on their behavioral traits, some employees may not appreciate a fast-changing environment because of the need to naturally process through information," Coruccini says. "Others' behaviors may be perceived as being demanding and being 'told' what to do. Every employee has unique behaviors, which, if understood in a team environment, can reduce conflict."

If clashes at work aren't reduced, vital parts of business are affected. For example, conflict causes a distraction, which decreases productivity and is also a de-motivator. Conflict also causes procrastination because your mind isn't focused on the end goal, Coruccini says. If disagreements are taken personally, it causes resentment toward co-workers or the company as a whole.

"When conflict is taken personally, it can shut down communication, cause intimidation, de-motivate, cause health issues if not dealt with, and the lack of interest to complete a mission or common goal," Coruccini warns.

However, some conflict can be healthy if you properly deal with situations to reach a proper resolution. But, this can only be done if you know how other people effectively deal with differences.

"Everyone communicates differently according to their natural behavior; everyone is driven differently based on their behaviors," Coruccini says. "Once there is an understanding of why others respond the way they do, it makes it easier to respect the other person and recognize that statements or comments are not about you and they don't take things personally."

Here are five examples of conflict you might face in the workplace:

·        Being told what to do rather than asked. This causes tension, and employees become defensive.

·        Employees who have different communication styles. One employee may need specific information while the other may just need the basics. Each will shut down when there is too much (or too little) information.

·        Different behavioral back-up styles. For example, someone may deflect controversy for a while, but when put under too much pressure, he or she may become confrontational. Others may take offense to the back-up style, which causes conflict.

·        When there is not a clear vision or mission. This usually means wasted energy and money spent in a workplace.

·        Unclear job expectations are sure to cause conflict for the manager and the employee.  

Make use of the following tips to resolve conflict at work:

Choose your battles. How important is the dispute really? Does it truly affect you, and is it a chronic problem? If it's a one-time incident or mild transgression, let it pass.

Expect conflict. Friction will occasionally emerge in the course of human relationships -- it's natural. Don't fear it -- rather, learn to spot the symptoms early and see opportunity in the resolution.

Use neutral language. Avoid judgmental remarks or sweeping generalizations, such as, "You never respond to my e-mails." Use calm, neutral language to describe what is bothering you. For example: "I get very frustrated when you don't return my messages because I never know if you've received important information." Be respectful and sincere, never sarcastic.

Practice preventive maintenance. Avoid retreating to the safety of withdrawal, avoidance or the simplistic view that your co-worker is a bad person. These are defense mechanisms that prevent the resolution of conflict. Instead, focus on the problem, not the person. Never attack or put the other person on the defensive.

Listen actively. Never interrupt the other party. Really listen and try to understand what the other person is saying. Let him know you understand by restating or reframing his statement or position, so he knows you have indeed heard him.

Get leverage on yourself. When disputes between you and a co-worker appear without resolution, get leverage. Ask to be held accountable. This brings your performance evaluation into the equation without taking away your responsibility for resolving the conflict. This is hard to do, but remarkable change can happen when you are held to task.

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 05/11/2008 - 12:33 PM

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