Everyone desires and benefits from a safe work environment. But, imperfect people doing their jobs in an imperfect world means there will be times when conflicts flare-up between individuals or even departments. Although some might prefer to simply ignore the situation, hoping it will resolve on its own, this is never a good long-term solution to workplace conflict. Leaving conflict unaddressed can lead to employee frustration, decreased productivity, an employee quitting, HR nightmares, and possibly a buildup to physical confrontation. Therefore, learning what you can do to resolve conflict at work and how to de-escalate a potentially dangerous confrontation is crucial.
Here are 4 proven strategies to do so:
1. Stay Calm. How you respond to coworker's behavior is going to either help or hinder in defusing the situation. Keep your emotions in check. Speak in a respective manner despite how they may be talking to you. This tells them you are willing to listen in order to understand their frustration. For some people, this is what they are truly craving - to be heard, to be understood. True, it will take humility on your part to do this, especially if you are in a position of oversight of this person, but isn't it more important to neutralize an escalating situation and more quickly resolve it? A positive outcome is more important than your pride.
2. Conversation Goals. Pick your battles wisely. Take a few minutes and think about what just happened. Could you overlook it? Or does it truly need to be addressed? If it does warrant a conversation, keep a few factors clearly in mind. Consider your objective - what you want to convey and walk away with. But, also consider their objective. Find out why they feel so strongly about this. As you listen to their reasons, think about an approach to solving the conflict that will allow you both a partial win - you both walk away with something gained. That is the difference between resolving conflict and winning an argument. If you are only focused on winning and tearing them to shreds in front of everyone, you automatically lose. The problem will not get better, perhaps even escalate further.
3. Training. If you are an employee, attend, actively participate in, and appreciate any training offered on workplace conflict. If you are the employer, management, or HR, you already know the importance of training and defining acceptable behaviors on the job. But, ask yourself if you are investing enough time in training or could more be done. Survey employees to identify where underlying problems are in departments and implement specific training and intervention to address it early on. Remember to offer genuine commendation when you see others employing good workplace behavior. You don't have to be in management to do so. If you observe the positive approach a coworker took in handling a conflict, tell them what you noticed and how effectively it was done. Do your part in "training" - promoting peace in the workplace by not only your example but in highlighting the successful strategies of others.
4. Prevent Physical Confrontation. Confrontation can be either verbal or physical and neither is pretty to witness. Learn to recognize anger and uncontrolled emotion in not only others but yourself. Make a quick exit if you feel that a highly charged, emotional outburst is escalating. Request help immediately if you are threatened with physical assault. Do not retaliate in words or actions - this may only add fuel to the fire. Be alert to keep yourself and coworkers safe. And although you may do your part in avoiding confrontation, some situations become too toxic to handle in-house and may best be referred to outside mediation or an attorney, such as when legal issues arise due to allegations of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination.
Of course, not all employee conflict is a negative. Healthy conflict in a workplace means an employee feels safe to disagree with other team members. This type of conversation can open the door to innovation, looking at a project with fresh perspective, or even enacting policy changes that would benefit more workers. But, when workplace conflict crosses that line and escalates, now you have a plan of what you can do to contribute to a safe work environment.