Don’t Fear Conflict. Work Through It!

Your workday was going fine. The pitch went well, you just delivered your latest project (and on time!), and then suddenly, a coworker wants to “have a word” about a grievance. Suddenly, your day has been upended, and with just a few words, your heart is racing and your stomach is turning. You’ve just been faced with conflict in the workplace.

Negatively processing and reacting to conflict is bad for us. Aside from the immediate “fight or flight” response your body experiences, ongoing conflict elicits large amounts of stress in our bodies and can have a lasting impact on our memory, mood and even lifespans. Studies have shown the toll of the stress from conflict on our bodies can even lead to increased work-related injuries.

So, what can we do to minimize the negative impacts of workplace conflict on ourselves and those we’re interacting with? According to the Harvard Business Review, choosing your words carefully is the best start. When emotions are high, we often don’t take time to carefully consider what we’re saying to the other person, or how we’re coming across, which can further escalate the situation. Another issue is that in our rush to get our point across and convince the other party why we’re in the right, we fail to actively listen to them, thereby shutting ourselves off from a potential resolution and further aggravating the situation. Here are six more do’s and don’ts for dealing with workplace conflict.

Don’t rush. Take a breath. Take a walk. Take your time to respond to that email. Even if you have to excuse yourself for a few minutes, do not push yourself into a response before you’re fully calm. When things are tense, the wrong response could make them worse.

Do listen without interrupting. This could be difficult, especially when you feel you’re the wronged party, but it’s imperative to moving forward that both sides feel they’ve had a proper chance to express themselves.

Don’t focus on a winner. It’s a win-or-lose mentality that gets people into conflict in the first place. By letting go of the need to be the victor, and instead focusing on a resolution, you can shift the focus to healing the matter together.

Do accept responsibility. Also in Harvard Business Review, leadership author and Harvard Business professor Linda Hill, advises not to act like there’s only one point of view. “You need to own your perception. Start sentences with ‘I’ not ‘you,’” she explains.

Don’t fear conflict. It’s inevitable in any workplace, or in life. And if you’re in a leadership position, it’s just part of your job. By ignoring the situation, you’ll only make it worse. So, take a deep breath, relax your muscles and try to focus on a solution.

No one says it’ll be fun or easy, but properly dealing with conflict is mental strength training for all of us.

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