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What to Do About Workplace Conflict


The American hive mind has rarely, if ever, been so cranky and conflicted. It’s no surprise we are tracking that emotional crud into the office with us every day. Maybe the lies, mudslinging, and bully-behavior in Washington are over the top, and even amplified and served up to us 24/7 in the social and professional media.

Stress, hostility, avoidance, and awkward conflicts … and even hostile workplace investigations … are on the rise.

The productive practices of airing and finding common ground among different viewpoints and ideas—without avoidance or hostility—can be tremendous tools, and it’s really time we (re)focus on those. I’m putting it under the heading of, “Hey! You need to deal with this,” to experienced executives and emerging leaders alike.

In the workplace, anger/hostility and (equally) avoidance of issues amount to getting in your own way, or being your own worst enemy by demotivating your best people, losing good people to competitors, and increasing the time and energy it takes to get stuff done.

Most of us don’t like having a conflict or disagreement with a colleague. While debate, skepticism, and taking the “devil’s advocate” position may be signs of healthy dialogue, here I ask you to consider situations where there is a conflict or strongly-held differing views that seem–if not irreconcilable–beyond your current capacity to resolve.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t try to “fix” the other person’s view or ideas. Instead, I challenge you to clean up your own side of the street. Ask yourself as many of the following questions as you can:

1. How do the facts (rather than the feelings or delivery) of his/her view truly differ from my own?

2. What does this issue, or the overall situation, look like from his/her viewpoint that has them convinced they’re right and/or I’m wrong?

3. What’s the elephant in the room? What’s being avoided by me or us, or not being said or addressed that is contributing to our lack of progress on this issue?

Related: Inspire. Influence. The Five Keys to Building Rapport

Related: Why You Need to Put Your People Center Stage

4. What, if any, sacred cows do I need to let go of in the interest of finding common ground and/or a good for the organization overall?

5. Beyond this immediate issue, what’s the bigger picture here, that if we can address that, will help with this particular issue?

6. What, if anything, would need to happen for me to change my point of view?

7. If we find common ground, what annoyance, grudge, or slight will I need to let go of?

8. What am I therefore willing to do differently right now to find common ground?

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