Professional You – Dealing with workplace conflict, Part 1

I’ll be honest, as I began writing this post, I really struggled! It became evident that a single post was not going to suffice, so I’ll be breaking it into a few parts. Why so much to write? There are so many factors to weigh when it comes to dealing with workplace conflict. Also, conflict, whether it’s with a co-worker, a supervisor, or a customer, is inevitable. Dealing with conflicts, or potential conflicts, can be very challenging. Further, there are differing degrees of severity – some situations might be better described as disagreements or even annoyances, while others can become full-blown battles. I do believe, however, that many workplace conflicts can be dealt with in a manner that avoids escalation.

Ask questions
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you are probably sensing a theme – asking questions is generally a good rule of thumb! When you are new to a position, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with your company’s or department’s policies for dealing with disputes, conflicts, disagreements, etc. These can differ from place to place, and can depend on the parties involved. For example, policies for how to deal with customer complaints will likely differ from how to deal with a disagreement with a co-worker. So, be sure you are well versed with your whatever policies may be in place. If no policy exists, speak with your supervisor before any conflicts arise to find out how she prefers to deal with them.

Just the facts
When a disagreement arises, it’s not unusual for parties to have strong feelings about the situation. Emotions, however, can sometimes cloud your decision-making abilities; moreover, sometimes your emotions can over shadow your words, which can lead some people to take you less seriously. As much as possible, try to set aside how you feel, and focus on the facts of the situation. This means that you want to focus on what was said and done, NOT on how those words or actions made you feel. Don’t get me wrong, your feelings are important, and there is a time and place for addressing feelings, but when you are assessing a situation, stick to the facts.

What about you?
Have you had to deal with conflict in the workplace? How did you deal with it? Are there certain types of conflict that you find easier to manage than others?


From Twitter – Conflict advice for young professionals?
@kellygiles – (Kelly was kind enough to provide a very thorough response via email.) Way more often that not (at least in my company), the people that address problems head on get the resolution they want and are more respected by their peers and senior management. My boss has told me on several occasions that he’s more interested in the truth and what’s best for the company than protecting people’s feelings or avoiding conflict.

With that advice in mind, I’ve started calmly but assertively addressing behaviors or processes that I don’t like, and I’ve seen only good results. For example, my boss asked me to produce a daily report that would’ve taken several days to initially create and would’ve needed manual updating each day — this report would’ve provided very little daily value, as well. Instead of acquiescing and allowing resentment to fester, I explained that I didn’t think the level of time commitment matched the level of value in the report. Instead, I suggested that we figure out what he was looking to achieve and if there was a more efficient way for both of us to get the information. There was — now I create a weekly report in a much more streamlined format. We’re both happy.

The Professional You series offers tips and suggestions for college students transitioning to their first professional position, whether an internship or full time job.

1 comment on “Professional You – Dealing with workplace conflict, Part 1”

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