Peace Of Work: Managing Conflict In The Workplace

by / ⠀Startup Advice / November 1, 2011

With the average worker spending upwards of 40 hours at the office, work takes up more of our lives than anything else. As a result, feeling at odds with colleagues, or as though you’re thrust into the quicksand of office politics can wreak havoc on your health and your sanity. The problem is not just unhealthy but costly as well. Research by CPP Inc. has determined that U.S. employees spend nearly three hours each week attending to conflict in the workplace. Of these, 33% say that the issues have led to attacks, and 22% say conflict has led to illness and absence from work. While coping mechanisms are helpful, useful tips for proactively avoiding or diffusing this potent source of tension are much more pragmatic. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to avoiding work-related warfare.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

While most recruiters tend to focus on resumes and academic pedigrees, smart business leaders know that creating a successful team requires a keen eye for subtler details. Whether you’re managing construction projects or marketing online university, emotional intelligence within a company should be cultivated among its leadership and passed through the ranks to create a culture of productivity. Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness and impulse regulation. Advanced intelligence includes well-developed skills in using empathy, embodying values, recognizing and optimizing dynamics within social networks. In real life practice, these skills translate into healthier communication that doesn’t rely on harmful conflict escalation or gaslighting to reach resolution. Masterful leaders can use their understanding of social dynamics to strategize the positioning of employees to maximize their talents and personality traits, while encouraging collaborations that accelerate growth and problem solving.

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Recognizing Patterns Of Behavior

Workplace relationships rival familial relationships in terms of the time and energy they are allotted. Thus, their dynamics will often begin to echo patterns first learned during childhood with the younger members mirroring the elder members. Thus, solutions to workplace conflict must follow a “top down” flow of influence. As a leader, it is up to you to set the bar by educating yourself and putting what you learn into practice. We bring the same conflict resolution styles we learned from our families of origin into the “family” structure of the workplace. That’s why teaching employees self-awareness, impulse control, and empathy is pivotal to ushering in a more mature, peaceful work environment. When your colleagues are aware of behaviors and situations that act as conflict triggers, they can consciously choose to engage, or to use empathy and effective communication to diffuse volatility and arrive at a constructive resolution.

Effective, Empathetic Communication

Getting beyond old patterns and establishing a higher professional standard of conduct must often begin by remodeling habitual patterns of communication. When searching for conflict resolution, people are almost universally annoyed by “corporate speak.” Understanding why is key to unlocking more effective office communication. The problem with “corporate speak” is that although it sounds florid, it conveys little of substance. Not only that, but when a colleague’s distress is met with what they may perceive as a rehearsed or insincere response, their frustration leads to escalation. Savvy leaders head this off at the pass by employing active listening and, most importantly, sincere validation of their colleagues’ concerns. No matter how absurd the cause may seem, it is always prudent to validate the person’s feelings by saying things like “I can see this has left you feeling very frustrated/hurt/confused/etc.” Immediately honing in on feelings diffuses the need of the person to endlessly argue their opinion, since they feel understood and cared for. This allows both parties to progress to the problem solving stage of a conversation more quickly. What’s more, by diffusing the emotional charge in the exchange, groundwork is set for a similarly composed and constructive means of dealing with future issues.

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Integrity & High Standards For Behavior

It is not enough for business leaders to espouse a policy of open communication, intolerance for gossip, and desire for peaceful collaboration. The behavioral standards for any workplace are set by those who run it. Whether you engage in office politics directly, or simply put your head in the sand, your actions send a strong message to employees about what kind of behavior constitutes the norm. Gently, but firmly acting to reinforce the standard you would like is the surest way to reduce conflict and make the most of your team. Setting ground rules for conflict resolution and establishing consequences for failure to comply is the equivalent of having good boundaries. By adhering to these standards consistently, but fairly, you erect a positive framework within which your employees can flourish. When complemented with sincere coaching on how they can elevate their problem solving and relational skills, the professional setting you create can be one which fosters widespread prosperity through integrity.

Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. She loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

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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