Tips for Dealing With Workplace Conflict

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If your job involves dealing with other people, conflict is inevitable. Managers report spending 24 to 60 percent of their time dealing with employee disputes. And a study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that the number of violent incidents in the workplace has been increasingly steadily. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents said violence had occurred in their organization during the past three years, and they identified "personality conflicts" as the leading cause.

How can you avoid getting caught in this unproductive -- even dangerous -- spiral? Arbitrator and attorney Steven Menack offers these tips for avoiding and resolving workplace conflicts:


How to Avoid Workplace Conflict

  • Refrain from discussing highly charged and divisive topics such as religion, politics or ethnicity.
  • Keep your personal and professional lives separate. Do not share details about your personal problems or social life with your co-workers or encourage them to share such details with you.
  • Don't start or carry on an office romance. Most such relationships don't end up working out, and they often result in ill will -- or even sexual harassment lawsuits!
  • Be nice. As you work your way up the ladder, be kind and respectful to those you pass along the way.
  • Avoid engaging in office gossip or making derogatory comments about others. By staying above the fray you'll develop a reputation as being trustworthy and having good character.
  • Establish and respect boundaries. Remember you are dealing with other human beings who lead hectic, complicated lives. Set healthy boundaries for your workload, time commitments and personal privacy.


How to Resolve It

  • 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.
  • Stay calm. Never approach your co-worker when you're steaming mad. Wait until you've both calmed down so your discussion will be productive.
  • Have a game plan. Analyze the situation so that you can clearly define the problem. Ask yourself: "What do I really care about? What do I need to have happen? How would I like things to be?" Then, generate some ideas and options for achieving the desired result so that you are ready to suggest solutions and alternatives.
  • Meet on neutral ground. Meeting over a cup of coffee or taking a walk around the block together can help diffuse tension and alleviate feelings of "turf."
  • Focus on the problem, not the person. Never attack or put the other person on the defensive. Focus on actions and consequences.
  • Use neutral language. Avoid judgmental remarks or sweeping generalizations, such as, "You always turn your reports in late." Use calm, neutral language to describe what is bothering you, for example: "I get very frustrated when I can't access your reports because it causes us to miss our deadlines." Be respectful and sincere, never sarcastic.
  • Listen actively. Never interrupt the other party. Really listen and try to understand what the other person is saying. Let them know you understand by restating or reframing the other person's statements or position, so they know you have indeed heard them.

Though Menack makes his living resolving disputes, he says by following these guidelines, employees can avoid and manage many everyday conflicts without professional help.


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Steven B. Menack is a professional divorce and business mediator with a background in law, psychology and public administration. He has practiced mediation for 17 years and is the founding president of both the National Association of Professional Mediators and the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators. He has published extensively and has appeared on local and national radio and television talk shows. Steve can be reached at www.divorceandmediation.com.

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