Maybe it started with a comment or email message that struck a colleague the wrong way. Or perhaps you got that promotion, and a co-worker felt slighted.
Damaged workplace relationships and unresolved conflicts can cause a tremendous personal and productivity toll. If you have experienced one or more conflicts that disrupt the flow of work, you’re not alone. In fact, a CPP Inc. study suggests U.S. employees spend an average of 2.1 hours each week dealing with such conflicts, at a yearly cost to employers of $359 billion.
How can we regain some of that lost time, minimize the pain such conflicts create, and reduce these enormous costs? It starts with us:
Strategy #1: Own the Problem
Even if you think the “fault” lies with the other person, take ownership for resolving the conflict. Ask to meet with the other person. The longer both sides dig in, the greater the pain and productivity cost.
Strategy #2: Name the Conflict
As you meet, offer your view about the nature of the conflict. Focus on how you or others are impacted without blaming the other person. Example: Words that blame and inflame: You started the problem when you… Starting the sentence with “You” will immediately provoke a defensive response.
Example: Words that support conflict resolution: Thanks for agreeing to meet. I’d like to get your help resolving the conflict that has kept the two of us from working well together. This approach suggests the two of you can move forward as equal partners to solve the problem.
Strategy #3: Respect the Other Person’s Viewpoint
Even if we aren’t happy with someone else’s action, we can remember that there is a reason the person took that action. There may be information we haven’t considered.
Keep an open mind. Ask good questions, such as, What ideas do you have for resolving the problem? Listen to understand, and look for solutions that will meet the other person’s needs as well as your own.
Strategy #4: Focus on the Relationship
As you think of outcomes you’d like to create as the conflict is resolved, make building a stronger relationship with the other person one of those outcomes. This is just as important as finding a concrete solution to a workplace issue. A stronger relationship will make it much easier to resolve any future workplace challenges the two of you may face.
Strategy #5: Forgive to Let Go of Past Grievances
Let’s say you wonder if you can complete strategies 1-4 because the other person said or did something hurtful to you in the past. Staying focused on past grievances keeps us stuck in an unhealthy place. Even if the other person’s past behavior did harm us, when we keep talking about it with others or reliving it in our minds, it is as if we give this person permission to keep harming us.
The way to move beyond this “stuck in the past” place is to forgive the other person. When I forgive, I don’t excuse another person’s bad behavior. I do, however, decide to take that burden off of my back. As I forgive, I allow the other person to own his behavior, and I allow myself the freedom to move forward without anger. This benefits me, and the positive ripple effect touches others in the workplace and at home.