How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Conflict is part of life almost as unavoidable as the common cold. Sibling rivalry, friendship feuds and disgruntled co-workers are part of life. With the right tools, conflict can produce great results. It can actually bring people closer together when the conflict is resolved.

Consider a few of these tools, tips or habits for resolving conflict when it crops up.

* Confront the situation. Avoiding a conflict will not make it go away. The sooner you recognize a conflict, the sooner you can begin to resolve it. The longer you wait, the greater the probability it will grow into a much larger problem. Avoiding conflict or hoping that it will simply disappear is a poor strategy.

* Clarify the problem or core reason for disagreement. Each person needs to define their position so that differences are clear. This also helps to focus on the real issues instead of getting sidetracked. When you clarify differences, you might find that you have more in common than you realize.

* Monitor your tone of voice. A large portion of emotion is communicated through tone of voice. Raising your voice does not strengthen your position. Nor does whispering convey your conviction. Balance your tone.

* Take turns communicating. Here is the formula: speak, listen, speak, listen. The key is to refrain from interrupting. This can be difficult to practice, especially when you hear the other person making what you believe to be false statements or inaccurate claims. Interruptions tend to create tension and frustration, and usually extend the length of the conflict. Take turns speaking and gain an understanding of the points the other person is saying before you respond. Communication is a two-way street know when to yield.

* Agree to disagree. Not all conflict reaches an agreement where both parties end up on the same side of the fence. Not everyone can agree all the time. If you disagree, remember to respect and acknowledge the other person's point of view.

* Excuse yourself, if needed. It is true that sticks and stones will not break bones, but they can penetrate the mind, causing hurtfulness depending on the words uttered. What you say matters. The next time you find yourself about ready to lose your cool, walk away from the situation so that you won't say anything you'll later regret.

* Follow through with your resolution. That's right: Once an agreement is made it is time to do what you agreed to do. Backtracking or being non-compliant on the final decision that is reached will only create a larger problem.

* Share facts not opinions. A fact is synonymous with reality or truth and can be supported by data or evidence. An opinion is a personal perspective. Differing opinions, not facts, are usually the crux of conflict.

* Maintain civility. Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Civil Disobedience," utilized the tactic of non-violent resistance. Gandhi used it to oust the British from India. Just because you are in opposition does not mean you can physically or verbally attack others. Civility requires a formal politeness and restraint from expressing negative emotions and behaviors. It is much harder to resist the views of another person when they are polite and respectful. Be civil in your discussions.

* Focus on solving the problem not controlling others. There are many ways to peel a potato. The goal is to not solve the problem "my way" or "your way" but rather to develop a solution that meets everyone's needs. We must practice the "it's not about me" principle. Get to the core of the problem so you can solve it, and leave your ego behind!

* Practice forgiveness. You might have a conflict with someone you will never see again since the issue occurred years ago. The person might not be traceable or is no longer among the living. You'll never forget, but it is possible to forgive. This affirmation may help: "I forgive myself and others easily and honestly." All sorts of problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, abusive relationships and violence emerge when we are unable to release the hatred and anger we feel toward people who have violated us. Find out how you can learn from it and move on, because if not, you'll create your own prison.

* Schedule a meeting. Problems don't go away because they are ignored. Have a sit-down. This is the intervention. The air needs to be cleared and should occur behind closed doors. This gives the people involved the chance to work things out so they don't erupt into something larger than they are. Talking about it can function as a safety relief valve.

* Use an unbiased third party. Who do you know, or whom can you call upon that does not have an interest or something to gain? This can be a consultant or an arbiter, or a referee, or an impartial and honest co-worker. This is an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on how to possibly solve the issue.

* Don't wait to apologize. This is simple in theory, harder in practice. No one likes to apologize. No one likes to admit they are wrong. The longer you wait to own up the bigger chance there is for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and anger. Don't let someone else stew in your mistakes. Take responsibility for your actions and your words and do so quickly.

* Debrief the lesson. Life is composed of a series of experiences. What we choose to take from each experience determines the quality and success of our life. Anytime you feel limited or unhappy by an experience, take time to examine the event and see how you could have changed it, avoided it, or overcome the part that made the experience less than ideal. The next time you are presented with a similar challenge you have already planned to succeed.

Even the most intelligent and ethical people will differ. If you find yourself approaching a conflict, exercise a few of these simple practices to resolve your dispute.

Best of success to you!

Jeffrey Benjamin is the co-author of "Real Life Habits for Success‚" and the founder of Breakthrough Training. He hosts Breakthrough Radio every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on 99.1 FM Talk. Contact him through


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