If you’re like most people, you probably dislike confrontation and avoid it whenever possible. When you mix a variety of personalities in an office environment, you’re bound to have people who clash, and confrontations will likely occur at some point. Avoiding conflict is one solution, but you may eventually be known as the office doormat, and that will certainly not help your career. So if you must confront someone, do so with poise, strength, and professionalism. Here are a few guidelines for handling conflict in the workplace:
Pick your battles
Before you get all wound up and start picking fights, step back for a minute and identify exactly what the issue is, and how important it is to you. If you’re about to start screaming at the guy in the next cubicle because you think he’s been taking your paperclips, then it might be best to take a deep breath and ask yourself if it’s worth it. Let go of the little nuisances and save your energy for things that matter. Next time you go to the supply closet to get paperclips, grab an extra box and leave it on the guy’s desk. Keep it friendly whenever possible. On the other hand, if he’s going through your drawers and really invading your personal space, that’s another story. So before you prepare for battle, think about how much the problem impacts you and what you want to accomplish by confronting it.
Set the tone
Once you’ve determined that a confrontation is in order, plan your conversation and be ready to cite very specific facts and examples of what the issue is, and how it has a negative impact. Start with a calm tone, let the person know there’s something you’d like to discuss, and ask if it’s a good time for them. You don’t want to catch them when they’re frazzled or preoccupied with something else, and giving them the option of agreeing on a time shows consideration and establishes the conversation as a collaboration rather than a one-sided attack.
Stick to the facts
Do not make it personal. Saying “You lost the file” has a very different impact than saying “The file is missing.” Putting the focus on the actual problem rather than making personal accusations will likely make the person less defensive and more open to working on resolving the problem. If you have any type of documentation that supports your argument, have that on hand so you can back up your statements and support your case. For example, if you think a fellow salesman stole your client, print out some emails, or present a call log so you can show that you were working with the client first, and you earned the business. Be specific and factual.
Listen to understand
When preparing for a difficult conversation, most of us visualize how we want it to go, so we have a script in our heads that we rehearse. The problem is, the other person in the conflict does not have a copy of the script, so the conversation rarely goes as you expect. Once you have stated your case, let the person respond and truly listen to what they’re saying. Don’t just blurt out the next line of dialog you rehearsed. Try to see things from their perspective, even if you disagree with their interpretation of events. Sometimes it helps to repeat back what they said so you can verify that you understood properly. If they present information that proves you wrong, then accept responsibility for any part you played in the misunderstanding. If they get upset and raise their voice, don’t raise yours. In fact, it is usually more impactful to lower your voice because the disparity in volume will draw attention to how loudly they’re speaking, and there’s a good chance they’ll tone it done to a calmer level.
Find common ground
In any conflict, your end game should be to resolve the issue and move forward. Before you initiate a confrontation, think of a few fair solutions to the problem so that you can steer the conversation toward a positive conclusion. You have to be willing to give a little, as well. Even if you are 100% right, you must understand that the other person doesn’t want to look like a jerk or feel they’ve “lost.” Sometimes you can work together to fix the problem, and sometimes what’s done is done, but you can still resolve things by agreeing on how you want to handle similar situations in the future. Being right is less important than resolving the issue, so put your focus on the business at hand and try to work it out.
Conflict is never pleasant, but with an approach that is fair and solution-driven, conflict should at least be cordial. You can’t control how the other party will react, so focus on keeping your end of the conversation mature and productive. Letting people walk all over you won’t get you anywhere, so always maintain your dignity and stand your ground. Happy fighting, everyone.