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6 ways to minimize conflict with co-workers

Robert Half International

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"The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people." -- Theodore Roosevelt

Looking for ways to win over the boss? Here's an easy one: Play well with others. In a recent survey by Robert Half International, managers said they waste, on average, 18 percent of their time trying to resolve staff personality conflicts. That's more than seven hours a week, or nine weeks per year.

So, it's safe to say the boss wouldn't mind dealing with less discord. Beyond making your manager's life a little easier, honing your collaboration skills -- and deftly dealing with conflict when it does arise -- will aid you throughout your career.

Consider these tips:

1. Don't assume the worst

Did a co-worker fail to get you a file on time with the specific intention of ruining your day? It's possible but not probable. It's much more likely poor planning, miscommunication or an overloaded schedule caused the person to miss the deadline.

Start with the assumption that it's not personal. Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt will help you address the matter in neutral and objective terms, rather than letting emotions dictate how the discussion goes.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

Paying attention to your colleagues' work styles can help you collaborate with them more effectively. But in addition to learning about their communication preferences and pet peeves, try to get a sense of the competing priorities and pressures they face. Just as others would probably cut you some slack if they knew the full range of responsibilities on your plate, you'll likely be more empathetic and tolerant when you better understand their roles.

3. Start (and stay) on the same page

Simple misunderstandings are often the source of significant tension. There are few statements more maddening to hear toward the end of a project than, "Wait, I thought you were doing that."

Arrange a meeting at the outset of a group assignment to clarify who is responsible for what. Immediately afterward, follow up with an email recapping what was discussed. Continuing to check in periodically will also help you avoid last-minute scrambling and finger-pointing.

4. Accept people for who they are

Focusing on people's perceived shortcomings is a recipe for frustration and friction. If you're a perfectionist, you can easily find yourself annoyed by a less detail-oriented co-worker. He may not cross every "t," but keep in mind that he brings other valuable skills to the table. For instance, he might be adept at generating big-picture ideas and selling them to management. When you work together, strive to make the collaboration more about complementing your respective strengths and less about your differences.

5. Criticize with care

There's nothing wrong with respectful disagreements. In fact, going along with a bad idea just to keep the peace is in itself a bad idea. But always make sure your criticism is constructive.

Watch both what you say and how you say it. A perfectly logical opposing viewpoint will lose its impact and fuel resentment if it's delivered in the wrong way. Tactfully saying, "We might want to consider another approach for the following reasons ..." will be met with less resistance than a brusque barb about how "that plan will never work."

6. Nip problems in the bud

When you lock horns with someone, take steps to resolve the situation quickly. Molehills can grow into mountains if you falsely assume things will blow over or wait for the other person to make the first move.

Once you've cooled down, request a brief meeting to clear the air. Keep your comments professional and solution-oriented. If being forgiving or apologetic will repair the rift, take the high road and move on. You don't have to be best friends; you just need to be able to work together in the future.

Finally, it would be naïve to think you'll interact smoothly with every fellow employee. Difficult, rude and uncompromising people exist in every workplace. And despite your best efforts to work together harmoniously, problems may persist with a particular colleague. In these situations, you may have no choice but to reach out to your supervisor for advice or assistance.

That being said, there are many co-worker quarrels that can be avoided or easily deflated without managerial intervention. Don't underestimate the power of flexibility, diplomacy and empathy.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.

Last Updated: 12/07/2011 - 5:54 PM


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