How To Manage A Conflict Between Co-Workers

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Conflict in the workplace is inevitable….and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If people care about their work, they’re going to get emotional on the job from time to time. As a leader and a mentor, you need to develop skills to deal with these common, interpersonal conflicts among members of your team to keep the work and relationships on track. Although uncomfortable to witness, even at times distressing, these situations offer the opportunity for personal and professional growth. Stepping up to handle a conflict and doing it with skill can build understanding and trust and can pave the way to make relationships stronger. Here are some immediately useful DOs and DON’Ts that will help you to become more effective at managing difficult workplace situations. Conflict scenario, overheard between co-workers.

Chelsea: I can’t believe you forgot that, Eric. I mean are you losing it?

Eric: You’re in charge of organizing the trade show. If you wanted connectivity, you should have said so!

Chelsea: I asked you to arrange services and utilities. I shouldn’t have to spell things out for you!

Mentor: Hey, what’s going on out here?

Skill Tip 1: Avoid the temptation to join in! DON’T get caught up in the emotion, yourself. Don’t point fingers. Don’t take sides. Joining in just fans the fires, as in this example. Conflict between team members

Mentor: Hey, what’s going on out here?

Chelsea: I asked Eric to arrange the internet connection for our trade show booth, and he hasn’t done it yet, and now it’s too late!

Mentor: What? What were you thinking, Eric? You know we need a connection!

Eric: Well, yeah, but she didn’t tell me to do it.

Mentor: You didn’t tell him to do it? I don’t believe it! You’re supposed to be organizing this thing!

Chelsea: I shouldn’t have to tell him anything! I didn’t call to remind him to wear clothes to work this morning! Those types of things should be obvious.

Mentor: That’s right! It’s obvious, Eric! I can’t believe you didn’t do it!

Skill Tip 2: Slow down and cool down the tempo! DO take charge of the situation. Intervene in a non-judgmental way to stop the debate. Adding a few moments of calm before continuing the discussion will help, too.

Chelsea:  I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.

Mentor: What’s going on out here?

Chelsea: I asked Eric to arrange the internet connection for our trade show booth, and he hasn’t done it yet, and now it’s too late!

Eric: Well, no, she didn’t tell me to do that.

Mentor: Whoa! Stop. Let’s talk about this in the conference room in five minutes, okay? Thanks.

Skill Tip 3: Move the discussion to neutral territory! DO defuse the negative emotion further by moving the conversation to a fresh environment. Be positive and upfront about the fact that the problem has a resolution, and you will work together to find it.

Mentor: All right. Whatever the problem is, we can resolve it. I want each of you, in turn, to tell me what the problem is and the other one will listen. Chelsea, you first. Tell me how you see the problem.

Chelsea: I asked Eric to set up the utilities and services for the trade show—

Eric (interrupting): No, you never said anything about—

Mentor (turning to Eric): Eric, please wait. You’ll get your turn. Chelsea, go ahead.

Chelsea: I asked him to set up the utilities and services for the trade show, and now I find out that he didn’t put in an order for any internet connection. The contractor needs at least a week’s advance notice to get one in, and the show starts in two days.

Eric: You never said anything about an internet connection, Chelsea. Utilities and services, to me, means power and lighting for the booth.

Skill Tip 4: Determine exactly what is the problem to be solved! DO see if you can identify and get agreement about what the problem is. Separate the problem from whose fault it is.

Mentor: Okay. As I see it, there are two issues. First, there is the problem, and how it came about. Let’s agree on the problem, before we get to the second issue. So, Chelsea, you’re telling me we don’t have an internet connection for our booth. We need one. The expo’s in two days, and the contractor says he needs a week. How are we going to solve that?

Skill Tip 5: Focus on the problem as a great way to take the tension out of the air. DO get both parties to the disagreement on the same side, solving the problem, not fighting between themselves over who’s to blame.

Mentor: Is there another contractor?

Chelsea: Nope. It’s a monopoly.

Eric: Chelsea is right. They handle the entire show.

Mentor: Well, look: We need to come up with some ideas.

Eric: Well, we haven’t actually talked to the contractor. Maybe they’d cut us some slack.

Mentor: It’s certainly worth a try. Chelsea?

Chelsea: Sure. Let’s give them a call.

Mentor: Great. Let’s break this meeting. I want you two to focus on solving the problem, and when we’ve done that, I’d like to meet again to discuss how it came about.

Skill Tip 6: Address the cause of the problem. DO move to the next phase of resolution, after solving the primary problem. The solution process starts by removing the emotion and getting your people on the same side, but you need to address the cause of the problem, or it might arise again.

Mentor: This could have been a disaster for us at the trade show, but it looks as if we’re going to be okay. Well done, you two.

Eric: Only cost a couple hundred dollars, too.

Chelsea: Um, $200 that was not in the budget.

Mentor: These things happen. Anyway, let’s make sure that this particular thing doesn’t happen again. Chelsea, tell me why you think this happened.

Chelsea: I guess it is partly my fault. I just assumed that services and utilities included internet connectivity.

Eric: And I should have asked. I did kind of assume that you were dealing with the internet.

Skill Tip Summary So, when you have a conflict between your people, deal with the emotion first. Change the tempo and, if possible, the location of the discussion. Take charge. Say that you will resolve it. Ask each party, in turn, to explain their points of view. Seek agreement as to what the problem is. Get agreement on how to solve the problem. And hold a separate meeting later to discuss how to stop the problem from happening again. You won’t stop conflict from happening. It’s part of life, and certainly it’s part of work life, but what you can do is take the emotion out of the situation and turn people’s energy away from conflict and towards problem solving.


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