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How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Close up of dew drops on blades of grass
Conflict happens all of the time — at work and home. Knowing how to resolve conflict can make your life (and the lives of everyone around you) much better. Here are four tips for resolving conflict while on the job.

1. Recognize That Disagreement Isn't Bad

If you're a conflict-averse person, or you work with a conflict-averse person, you may feel the need to shut down any form of disagreement. The thing is, disagreement isn't bad. It's total agreement that is bad.

When everyone always agrees with everyone else, you can be sure you're not getting the best ideas. That's called group-think and it's terrible for the success of your company. So, the first step toward conflict resolution is recognizing that disagreements aren't inherently bad. If you're the boss and no one disagrees with you, ever, you're probably missing out on a lot of great ideas.

2. Disagree Based on the Facts, Not People or Labels

So, Bob presents Idea A, and Karen presents Idea B. The company has to choose only one. The discussion should be around Idea A and Idea B, not about Bob and Karen. Oftentimes, people favor one idea over another because they like the person who suggested it better.
When it comes to resolving interpersonal conflict, it can be a little bit more difficult. Bob is annoying. Karen is pushy. As a result, the two are always squabbling with each other. However, the resolution is the same. It's best to start with the facts. Employees may say that Bob is annoying, but that means nothing. Instead, figure out what is annoying and address that. For instance, "Bob, can you please stop whistling as you walk down the hallway? It disturbs others' concentration." Or "Karen, please don't ask me again when I'll have this report done. As I said, it will be on your desk by noon."

3. Avoid "Always" and "Never"

When people are trying to sway others' opinions, the words "always" and "never" typically pop up. "She is never on time." "That plan will never work." "I am always carrying the biggest workload." Now, while it's possible that these statements are true, it's unlikely. In fact, they are almost never true.

Instead, stick to reality and talk about the problem created or the conditions that need to change. "She is frequently late, and when she is, I have to cover the front desk, and I get behind on my work. Can my workload be reduced to account for this, or should we get someone else to cover the front desk on the days Nancy is late?" "That plan will only be successful if we can increase revenues by 25 percent in the second quarter. Do you have suggestions for how to do that?" "Right now, I'm assigned to three different project teams. I cannot take on another project unless I let one of these three go. Would you like to have someone else take over the Jacobsen project?"

Notice how the comments changed from complaints to actionable items. Each scenario is no longer an emotional conflict of who is right and who is wrong, it's a well-thought-out problem with a possible solution.

However, remember that just because you've said something doesn't make it true. It's perfectly reasonable for someone to reply, "You can certainly work while covering the front desk. Just log on to Nancy's computer." Or "Where do you get those 25 percent figures? My calculations show we'll only need a 5 percent increase and that is doable."

4. Support the Conclusion

After you've navigated through a conflict and come to a resolution, everyone needs to support it, even if it's not what you would think of as the ideal solution. If there isn't buy-in across the board, the conflict will continue and resentment will grow. That's not healthy for business or relationships.