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How NOT to handle conflict at work

7 November 2013

Conflict between employees is an inevitable fact of working life. No matter how agreeable you are, there will be times when your views do not align with someone else at work.

Although some cases of conflict can be healthy, such as when employees are respectfully disagreeing on how best to move the organisation forward, it is important that all cases of conflict are appropriately addressed and resolved.

There are different strategies that work for different situations but here are some things you should not do when addressing differences at work.

Keep quiet

If you have a disagreement with another employee, you should aim to iron it out and resolve the issue in a timely fashion.

This means being clear and bringing it up promptly with the other party, to find a mutually satisfying way of putting an end to it. If both of you choose to ignore it and let it simmer, the situation will only get worse - potentially impacting on others in the workplace too.

That said, if an exchange is particularly heated, be sure to give yourself time to cool down before approaching the other person for a conversation. Thinking about what to say beforehand and choosing specific examples of things you wish to discuss is useful. Staying calm when discussing the issue is essential to a positive outcome for both of you, remember to remain professional, address the issue itself and avoid personal attacks.

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Gossip

Although it may be tempting for a person to rant to co-workers about a colleague they have disagreed with, this is not helpful in finding a solution. Gossip and rumours may be seen as unprofessional by other team members, could further damage a struggling working relationship and could even be seen as part of a pattern of bullying behaviour.

It is in the interests of all concerned to try and resolve the conflict as discreetly as possible. A worker venting their frustration by gossiping may find that this backfires, reflecting poorly on them and leading colleagues to view them as untrustworthy or not a "team player."

Go solo

Although it is important not to escalate matters by approaching a colleague in public about a matter of concern, there are some scenarios where a third person can be helpful.

If you feel threatened or intimidated by someone's behaviour it is best to seek the help of an HR person or line manager in order to help you discuss your issues with the other party.

Equally, if there is a history of "butting heads" between two employees it may be best for a third party to step in to provide mediation; give an objective perspective and to help keep things calm. This person is likely to be a member of the HR team or could be someone from outside the organisation engaged to provide professional workplace mediation services.

Mediation will help to ensure that each person has a chance to put their side of the story and that they are heard by the other parties involved. An agreement can then be reached as to how to move forward and any further behavioural changes or actions to be undertaken.

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