How to Effectively (and Respectfully) Solve Office Conflicts

How can you fix a situation like this?

When a group of people with different, roles, ideas and personalities need to work together, there’s bound to be conflict. Tempers can flare out of control, and pretty quickly the initial disagreement can become obscured in mistaken meanings and unintended slights.

No matter how great our working relationships are with coworkers, there’s bound to be disagreements from time to time – and that’s actually fantastic. Disagreements force us to think outside the box, and can create stronger, more creative solutions in the workplace.

But they can also escalate into truly hostile situations if they’re not handled gracefully. Keeping these five tips in mind will help you solve office conflicts before they get out of hand, and hopefully find a result that works for everyone along the way.

1. Figure out what you’re disagreeing on

This seems basic, but the truth is that while on the surface you may be arguing about how to launch a new initiative, in reality the argument could be about something completely different. Are you really disagreeing over the choice of font in the website redesign? Or are you actually upset over the way you weren’t included in the process from the beginning?

In work and in life, most conflicts have deep undercurrents. Getting to the root of the issue will help you not only resolve the current problem more effectively, but can help smooth the road for problems to come.

2. Listen, listen, listen

I’m the worst at jumping in halfway through my partner’s sentences to argue against the point I assume he’s trying to make – especially when tempers are high. I’m so ready to defend my position I sometimes don’t realize that there’s nothing to defend against. If I’d just take the time to listen thoroughly to what he’s saying – rather than focusing all my attention on formulating my next argument – then we could have a much more rational, productive conversation.

Workplace arguments are no different. Take a moment to listen to what your coworker is saying before jumping to conclusions. Try summarizing her argument back to her, to make certain you understand it completely before laying out a counter-argument. It may turn out that your disagreement is really rather small – or that you’re not actually disagreeing about anything at all.

3. Stop assuming intent

Your coworker left you off the email chain – was it an intentional slight, or just an oversight? Your boss just handed one of your regular duties over to someone else – does she think you’re incompetent? Or is she just freeing up your time to take on tasks that are more in line with your skill set?

It’s only natural to guess at the meanings behind people’s actions, but to keep a healthy work environment you need to acknowledge that you can’t actually know what anyone’s intent is. Unless you ask them, of course.

If you’re feeling stung by a coworker’s action, address it directly instead of letting the feeling ferment. Let them know how you perceived their action, and give them a chance to explain the actual motive behind it.

4. Talk it out in person

Nothing adds fuel to the fire of conflict like vague, passive aggressive emails. When we’re put in an emotionally charged situation, it becomes all too easy to seek out double meanings in our coworkers’ words. Maybe you sent an email meant to be brief and businesslike, but your coworker assumed you were terse and annoyed. Maybe your coworker sent you a request for information that you perceived to be bossy and belittling.

Rather than sit and seethe at the hidden meanings you’re sure are behind every sentence, get out from behind your screen and go talk to your coworker face to face. In-person conversations help deescalate conflict because they force us to remember we’re talking with actual people, not just faceless entities in our computers.

5. Separate the person from the issue

Try to maintain an objective point of view about the disagreement, and don’t identify too personally with your position. Ask yourself if you’re arguing as a matter of pride, or if you really feel that the solution you’re advocating is the best choice.

In the same vein, make it clear that your disagreement is with your coworker’s position, not with your coworker personally. Avoid using words like “you” and “yours,” which could make your coworker feel attacked and defensive.

Remember: at the end of the day everyone in the office is (hopefully) working toward the same goal.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Remember that we all have different work styles.

By talking about these differences it can help to solve some of the frustrations….ie planners vs wait until the last moment. Neither is right or wrong, just different ways to get something done.

David Salusbury

Great blog, Jessie!

It would be nice to see a lsit of what NOT to do, as well!

For example:

How to increase conflict in the office

1. Just follow the rules (for example, clock-watching) and treat employees as if they are machines–check they are at their desks often, and post notes on their computer screens asking where they are, if they are absent

2. Don’t ever manage by walking about–just stay in your office and send emails; never say “good morning” on the way to your office (this could turn into time-wasting conversations)

3. Ignore all staff below you; only treat superiors with respect

4. Keep all the interesting work for yourself–always seeking self-aggrandizement

5. Only hold bilat meetings when things are not going well

6. Cancel staff meetings often–preferably always (as they are a waste of time)

7. If you have too much to do, give interesting work to your favourite employees and dull stuff to the ones you don’t like–or better still no work to such losers

8. Don’t send reminders about holidays–and reject requests for time off often–especially if you don’t like the employee

9. Never send thank-you notes, or thank employees in person–it’s a waste of time. After all it’s their job to do good work.

10. Above all, show your power and importance, by barking out orders with to-the-point emails–or best of all–a verbal demand or dressing-down, while an employee ais on a break in the staff room with colleagues.