Monday, January 3, 2011


Managing conflict with coworkers doesn't have to be difficult. In this article are eight simple rules that should both help you deal with conflict and improve your relationships at work.
Rule 1: See conflict as an opportunity
Our perception of conflict has a direct impact on how it plays out in our life. If we embrSIMPLES RULES TO RESOLVING CONFLICT AND IMPROVING WORK RELATIONSHIPSace conflict and see it as an opportunity to better a situation or a relationship, then we'll take on the challenge of seeing the confrontation through, regardless of how difficult it may be, because we know that the ultimate benefit of working through an issue will be worth it in the long run for both us and our working relationship with the other party.
If, on the other hand, we disdain conflict and would rather lie on a bed of sharp nails than address a problem with a coworker, we'll be more inclined to avoid it, mismanage it, or even deny its existence. In either case, our negative perception of conflict will prevent us from dealing with it effectively. Furthermore, avoiding conflict only makes it more likely that the issue will continue to be a source of contention with no end in sight.
Begin by breaking away from the following myths around conflict:
Conflict is negative.
Conflict is about winning and losing.
Conflict, if left alone, will resolve itself.
Conflict only impacts the parties in conflict.
By approaching conflict as an opportunity, any reluctance we have will begin to dissipate with practice as our confidence grows.
Rule 2: Choose our battles
Take on the issues that matter to we and/or that impede us from being as effective as possible on the job and let the rest go. Life's too short to be wasting any of our valuable time and energy on issues that ultimately don't matter or that don't impact us in a detrimental way.
Think through an unresolved or current conflict and do the following:
Identify the benefits of resolving the problem for us, for the other party, and for the people impacted by this conflict.
Identify the potential costs of not resolving the conflict for us, for the other party, and for the people impacted by this conflict.
Compare our findings. If the benefits outweigh the costs, then we need to address the problem, regardless how uncomfortable it might be.
Rule 3: Do our homework
The more prepared we are to address and resolve a conflict, the better we'll do. This includes taking the time to think through the problematic issue, personality dynamics, relevant past experience and desired outcomes before engaging in an authentic conversation to resolve a conflict with another party. It's no different than preparing for a speech or an exam. With preparation, we become more confident, focused, and in control of our emotions.
Always remember that the people who trigger us the most are often our best teachers. Why? Because these people bring out our vulnerabilities, insecurities, and hot buttons that actually end up revealing more about us than about them. That doesn't mean that our conflict is less legitimate, but just don't forget to include our self when examining the problem. We'd be surprised what we might learn.
If we find our self judging another person's actions without knowing the intent behind those actions, ask that person first what they meant or why they did what they did before attributing any motives to them. In order to achieve those outcomes, how do we need to be in the discussion so as to ensure the greatest chance for success?
Do we know what the problem is and are we prepared to propose a solution, if needed?
Are we willing to hear the problem described from the other party's perspective, including how we might have contributed to the conflict?
Are we willing to compromise in order to reach agreement?
Rule 4: Take the initiative
Conflict is not about who's right or wrong, who's more at fault, or who should be the first one to apologize to the other. The fact is that if the conflict is bothering you, then it is ours to resolve. Waiting for the other party to come to us doesn't help us address the problem; it only prolongs it. Keys:
Never hold on to an issue, a wrongdoing, or an unresolved conflict. Find a way to address it, resolve it, or let it go.

The benefits of taking it upon our self to resolve a conflict include:
We are taking care of our self.
We are not allowing a problem to fester inside of us.
Our are role modeling effective conflict resolution to our peers.
We are holding the other party in the conflict accountable for their actions.
Rule 5: Focus "out" before focusing "in"
Focusing "out" means understanding the other party's point of view before expressing your own. Why does this matter? Because it puts the other person at ease knowing that their concerns have been heard and validated. When people feel listened to and acknowledged, they have a tendency to relax and lower their defenses. This not only helps ease the conversation, but increases the likelihood that the other party will be more willing to hear your side of the story.
Why active listening is so important:
It allows the other party to vent.
It provides clarity for you on the problem from his or her perspective.
It validates the other party's concerns.
It shows we are willing to collaborate.
It helps diffuse any anger the other party may have.
It allows us time (since the initial focus is on them) to think through our response.
It provides us with information that we may not have had, allowing us to respond from a more informed perspective.
Rule 6: Seek mutually beneficial solutions
Successfully managing conflict means having the ability not only to bring an issue to resolution but also to do it in a respectful, collaborative manner with the other party. One without the other will greatly diminish our results.
If we always treat the other party in a conflict with respect, we will have discovered the quickest way to resolution.
If emotions are high, we are better off postponing a confrontation until we can be reasonable and rational. Unloading emotions might make we feel better, but if it is at the expense of coworker, we could end up making things worse.
Keep the discussion on the conflicting issue and/or behavior and stay away from personal attacks. By separating the issue from the person, you have a much greater chance for resolution.
Follow these steps when addressing a concern:
Begin by acknowledge the importance of having an effective working relationship with the other party.
Tell the other party that the purpose of our conversation is to share a concern that we feel is impacting our working relationship with them.
Describe the particular behavior that is causing a problem for us.
Talk about how to handle any potential problems together before they occur.
Always follow up with the other party a week or so later to ensure that things are working better.
Rule 7: Empower the third side
In a conflict, there's your side, there's their side, and there's the third side. According to William Ury, author of Getting to Peace, the third side in a conflict is all the people who are directly and indirectly impacted by someone else's conflict. Although many third-siders see themselves as innocent bystanders, they actually have a tremendous influence on establishing a work environment that either supports constructive and functional conflict resolution or reinforces dysfunctional and destructive conflict resolution.
As a team, work group and/or department, establish group norms and expectations around managing conflict effectively and productively.
Make sure that everyone understands his or her role in ensuring that norms are followed when conflict amongst members occurs.
Schedule biannual team building sessions to further develop working relationships while instilling a greater sense of team.
Establish and enforce consequences for any member of the group who disregards the established protocol for effective conflict resolution.
Rule 8: Be proactive
Instead of waiting for a conflict to occur before practicing these eight simple rules, why not start today by enhancing your working relationships and applying the concepts in this article to the smaller, more manageable office issues and disagreements. After all, the goal here is to develop some momentum and patterns of success now so that you'll be better prepared to take on any bigger, more volatile issues and conflicts in the future.
Be proactive both individually and as a work group, as follows:Individually:
Handle any and all issues when they occur.
Periodically check in with coworkers to assess how our working relationship is going and could be improved.
Role model the behavior we expect to see in others.
Schedule biannual team building sessions to further develop our working relationships, established norms, group communication, and team cohesion. Allow for any specific issues brought up by or affecting the whole group to be raised as well.
Learn more about each other's personalities and communication styles. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the True Colors Personality Profile are great in helping our work group better understand each other.
Conflict, if managed effectively, can be a tremendous asset in helping individuals and groups maneuver through issues, disagreements, and problems that are common in today's workplace. Hopefully, these simple rules will provide sufficient guidance and incentive to help our take charge of conflict forevermore.


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