Let’s be real: The office can’t always be sunshine and rainbows. Conflict happens. There are bound to be disagreements, power struggles, and the occasional quarrel over “borrowing” someone else’s chips in the break room.
The key to managing any office conflict is to keep it from spiraling too far out of control. In order for your company to be on its A-Game, you want your workplace back in a harmonious groove as soon as possible. Here are three tips for handling office conflict in an effective way.
1) Deal with it early
We all know people who would be otherwise great leaders if they could just step up and learn to handle conflict. At times, we all want to play the part of the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand. Avoid doing this if you want to keep conflict to a minimum. When you hear of, or are involved in, a conflict, meet with the parties involved — separately or together — as soon as possible.
2) Communication is key
Many conflicts can trace their source back to a common root: miscommunication. When different interpretations of the same information clash, you’re set up for conflict. When diffusing these situations, it’s important to gather facts on both sides of the story to piece together where the miscommunication stems from. Getting everyone on the same page about what happened can help you determine what actions to take next.
Here’s another tip about communication: It doesn’t really matter what your intent was if the impact was negative. For example, if I tell a joke that someone else finds hurtful, it doesn’t really matter if my intent was to be funny. The impact was that the other person was hurt, and now it’s up to me to make it right. Peter Bregman, who advises CEOs and their leadership teams, recommends that you “always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions impacted the other person. Save the discussion about your intentions for later.”
3) Grow from your experiences
Yes, conflict can be painful. But even uncomfortable experiences serve as opportunities to learn, stretch, and grow. As Mike Myatt on forbes.com notes, “If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity.” After the conflict has simmered down, reflect on some basic questions like, “What caused this issue?,” “Did we manage it effectively?,” and “What can we do in the future to keep issues like this at bay?” Using conflict as a learning opportunity is the best way to turn a bad situation into a positive one.
When you handle conflict early, communicate effectively, and use conflict as a springboard for growth, you can diffuse even the ugliest office squabble.
Megan Torrance is the chief energy officer of TorranceLearning, an elearning design and development firm in Chelsea.