Seven strategies for conquering conflict at work

Difficult situations are an opportunity for growth. But I remember one very frustrating situation when I said aloud, “Do we really need any more personal growth this year?” That situation was frustrating, but it reinforced something I’ve realized again and again — avoiding conflict makes the situation much worse.

The truth is smart leaders deal with difficult situations, which takes courage. Problems don’t disappear when you avoid them. Have you ever worked with (or for) a difficult person? Have you ever hired an individual who wasn’t a right fit for the position? These situations typically don’t improve over time.

Also, avoiding conflict is costly, resulting in loss of profits, productivity, creativity and quality staff, while increasing frustration, resentment and absenteeism.

Here are seven strategies to help you resist the urge to avoid conflict:

1. Assess the situation without emotion. It’s important to be centered and nonemotional before you address conflict. You set the standard for communication, so make a point to keep emotion separate from the facts.

2. Reassure the team. Begin difficult conversations by stating your intention. “It’s important that we restructure in order to meet deadlines without layoffs or overtime.” This eliminates worry and uncertainty and invites collaboration at the onset. If someone is afraid of being fired, they aren’t listening to anything you say.

3. Determine an acceptable outcome. This is critical to keeping your conflict conversations brief. When you determine the appropriate outcome, write it down. If the conversation turns to complaining, steer everyone back to the intended outcome.

4. Set a time limit. Workplace drama wastes time. Here’s a statement that will prevent complaining and keep your conversation on track: “I have 20 minutes before I need to move on to another project. Let’s spend that time discussing solutions.” If the conversation moves past 20 minutes, check your watch and stand up to indicate that it’s time to move on.

5. Remain consistent. If conquering conflict is a new habit, it may take time for the team to adjust. When you navigate new waters some people become seasick. It’s your responsibility to stay on course and make sensible decisions in the company’s best interest.

6. Recognize the warning signs. Remain consistent by addressing conflict before it affects productivity and profits. You’ll begin to recognize early warning signs in time to take preventative measures. This saves everyone unnecessary stress, especially you.

7. Build your conflict confidence. Increased productivity, a boost in profits and a pleasant environment will make you more confident about addressing problems immediately. Team players will be more secure and the entire office will respect and appreciate your swift action.

Almost any workplace and relationship is going to experience conflict. Understand and accept that, as a leader, conflict management is a part of your leadership role.
Remember that you are a conflict role model. When faced with difficult situations, don’t delay. By facing tough issues, you’re establishing a setting for growth and the opportunity for your company to thrive.

Beth Caldwell is the founder and executive director of Pittsburgh Professional Women