How to Resolve Office Conflict

by / ⠀Startup Advice / December 12, 2012

We don’t like everyone we work with all the time. What is a tactful way (especially on a small team) to address a conflict with a colleague before it gets out of hand?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

1.)     Get Tested

Having trouble communicating effectively with your teammates? Get tested…take the Myers Briggs test, that is. This renowned personality test will give everyone greater insight into your behavior and each other’s behavior. Doing so will help to create more effective methods of communicating among team members, reduce conflict, and increase productivity.

Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees

2.)     Frame the Discussion First

Before founding a business, I was actually trained as a mediator and have been amazed at how important those skills have been as an entrepreneur. One of the most useful conflict principles I use is, “People aren’t against you, they’re just for themselves.” Considering the other party’s perspective and how they will hear your perspective is key to successfully framing a difficult conversation.

Martina Welke, Zealyst

3.)   Engage, Don’t Embarrass

You should never embarrass anyone, so if there’s an issue you should pull the colleague in question aside individually. Initially talk with them to find out where the distress might be coming from, instead of making assumptions or placing blame. If the issues continue, however, you have to take the next step to get them to change or face removal.

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Zach Cutler, Cutler Group 

4.)     Find a Neutral Location

If there is tension between you and a colleague, the best thing to do is to move to a relaxing, neutral setting before you address the problems. Take your colleague out to lunch and admit to the tension. Have a good laugh about it and work out your problems by changing the setting and speaking openly and respectfully. The outcome will be much better than a private office chat.

Jay Wu, Best Drug Rehabilitation

5.)     Use a Mediator

On a small team, it’s especially important to address internal conflicts before they blow up. It’s not always easy to talk through the issues, but it’s the only way to resolve them. To ease difficult conversations, an objective third party should be on-hand to mediate the discussion and should remind all involved parties to try to stay positive and focus on the good aspects of collaboration.

David EhrenbergEarly Growth Financial Services

6.)     Don’t Say “You Are;” Say “I Feel”

When frustrated with a teammate, it is easy to start a sentence with “You are.”  “You are frustrating, you are mean, you are annoying.”  Instead, work through the issue by making the discussion about how you feel. “I feel frustrated…” or “I feel hurt when…”  Your colleague will not be put on the defensive and you will be able to discuss ways in which both parties can make each other feel better.

Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

7.)     Make a List and Be Specific

Be specific about your grievances and address them one at a time. Discussions about “feelings” can crowd the real issues and prevent the other party from fully understanding the problem. Attack the issues, and not the other person.

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Lisa Nicole Bell, Inspired Life Media Group

8.)     Cut Gossip Off at the Head

Gossip and backstabbing spread quickly — and if these behaviors get established they can be almost impossible to contain. If you catch wind of employees speaking negatively of each other, talk to them about the kind of environment you want to create. Also, as the leader you have to be diligent to never engage in this yourself — make sure conversations are productive instead of vent-fests.

Laura Roeder, LKR 

9.)     Be the Bigger Person

Many professional conflicts stem from egos going out of control. Next time you find yourself in such a situation, pay a genuine compliment or positive feedback to the person you clash with.  Then sit back and watch the situation diffuse itself.

Robert J. Moore , RJMetrics

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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