6 Ways to Handle Conflict at Work

Posted on September 7, 2017

We’ve all experienced conflict in the workplace in some form or another. It’s always stressful and difficult to deal with. Here are a few strategies that I’ve learned through experience on how to deal with conflict at work.

1. Don’t Get Caught Up In The Drama. When problems happen at work it’s easy to get frustrated because of the things associated with that problem – feelings and attitudes. Try to step back from that and understand the real problem. Ask yourself, “What is the real problem here?” and then ask yourself “What can I do to try to fix it?”

2. Remember, Everyone Expresses Themselves Differently. Both personally and professionally, everyone in your life is a little bit different. With my friends, my boyfriend, and my employees – everyone is built differently, speaks differently, and expresses themselves differently. When I argue with certain friends – I already know how they are going to handle conflict. As I get to know my employees, I start to understand how they handle conflict – and vice versa. Try not to focus on how people express themselves, try to understand what they are frustrated with and what they are trying to express to you. You might not agree with every word they use or every feeling they state – but similar to point number one, try to step back and understand what they are trying to express.

3. Come Back With a Thoughtful Response. In our personal lives, arguments can get a little crazy – depending on who are they with. Often times, it becomes a battle of words. At work, try to be more thoughtful with your conflicts. If someone expresses something to you, take it in, hear what they are saying, and carefully craft your response. At a workplace where impressions stick, you want to make sure that anything you say is very thoughtful. If you don’t know exactly how to respond or feel blindsided by the conversation, tell the person you are going to really consider what they said and come back at a later time with a thoughtful response.

4. If You Understand the Problem, Say That You Understand the Problem. At my first job, I got yelled at all of the time. My boss used to always say she was frustrated with me because she would tell me what the problem was and I would just say “Okay”. In my mind, I wanted to fix the problem ASAP. I didn’t want any issues with my boss. I just wanted to fix what she was angry about. My boss did not like the way I responded. She used to say, “You aren’t taking your job seriously. You aren’t upset that I’m upset.” Interesting, right? I clearly needed to do a better job of saying, “I understand the problem. I don’t want that to happen. I’m going to move as fast as I possibly can to fix the problem.”

5. Ask To Discuss What Happened Before Your Boss Asks You. One of my employees made an honest mistake in scheduling a call a few months back. The mistake would have gone unnoticed but because we happened to be with our client at the time – it was uncomfortable for everyone. My employee was upset, I was upset, and our client was upset. I didn’t really know how I was going to speak to my employee about the situation but before I could figure it out – she sent me a note and asked if we could discuss what happened. She was extremely solution oriented and apologetic and said, “I want to make sure this never happens again.” She showed me she took personal ownership of the mistake and was even more upset than I was about it. I was very impressed that she called me to discuss before I could even figure out how to handle. I thought she made lemons out of lemonade :)

6. Don’t Take it Personally. There is a Hilary Clinton quote that I really like, “Take Criticism Seriously but Not Personally.” You want to listen to what people have to say but then you have to think about what context they are saying it in. If one of my employees makes a mistake – it’s my responsibility – as their boss to let them know, tell them how to fix it, and move on. Just because they made a mistake at work doesn’t mean that I don’t personally like them or enjoy working with them. When someone criticizes me, it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy my company or like spending time with me – it’s just business – and they are just doing their job.

For more workplace tips, read my new book, Welcome to the Real World on how to succeed at your first, second, and third job after college.