How To Handle Workplace Conflict looking at a picture of two goats butting heads, and meditating. Obviously. looking at a picture of two goats butting heads, and meditating. Obviously.

It would be great if everyone could get along 100% of the time, and there was never any conflict. Ok, great, but most likely extremely boring. Conflict, as much as you may hate it, is a part of the workplace. If everyone agreed 100% of the time, nothing would ever move forward—opposing ideas spark true innovation (just ask the inventors of cheese in a can; sounds wrong on paper, but somehow it just works.) That said, handling conflict, and knowing how to address it, is extremely important and a common attribute we see Advisees coming to Advisors for guidance on. Here’s some of our advice on how to handle workplace conflict healthily.

Be Direct

If you disagree with something, don’t beat around the bush, speak directly and concisely on the matter. Don’t make excuses for why you disagree and most importantly, be quiet after you state your opinion. Let the responding party ask you follow up questions if they need further clarification. Don’t try to fill the silence with further justification for what you think or feel. There’s a reason why you’re in the role you’re in, speak up to your area of expertise, and let the point stand.

…But Let It Go When It’s Time

We all know that one person who knows how to hold a grudge. Don’t be that person. If you’ve spoken up, and your idea or opinion was considered but ultimately not put into action, that’s ok— but let it go. You spoke up and did your job, don’t get hung up on the outcome. If there becomes a consistent pattern where your thoughts or opinions are disregarded, then that’s something else. For the most part, there may be factors beyond your scope of knowledge or information at play here, and you should accept the outcome with professionalism (It’s totally okay to rage in your journal though, it’s frustrating to not get what you want, although we STRONGLY suggest you keep it off social media! Ok, we’re actually begging you to stay off social media with venting about work.)

Don’t Make It Personal

If a colleague did something you didn’t agree with or needs to be addressed, don’t make it a personal attack on them. It’s super clichéd but incredibly true—if you make statements that use “I feel” rather than “you” you keep the interaction focused about your reaction to what happened, instead of their actions. In turn, they’re more likely to be receptive to what you’re saying, instead of getting defensive. Nothing good ever comes from a sentence that begins “You really messed up by doing…” trust and believe on this one!

Pick an Appropriate Time

Knowing when and where the right time to address a matter is crucial. Upset you didn’t get a raise or promotion? The office holiday party is probably not the time to bring it up. A colleague say something that you disagreed with in a meeting? We suggest you don’t try to address it with them as they’re rushing out of the office to pick up their kids. You don’t have to make a formal deal out of an issue when something needs to be addressed (although sometimes you do)—just use your best judgement when and where to address the issue with someone.

Brevity Is Key

Unless you’re a reality housewife, no one (healthy) thrives on conflict and workplace drama. There is absolutely no need to draw out conflict longer than it takes to reach a resolution. Most conflict can be resolved within a matter of minutes. If it takes a turn, or you feel overwhelmed, you can always call time out and walk away for a breather. If you feel it’s beyond your scope to deal with, speak to your manager, HR person, or Advisor, if you have that kind of relationship—ideally it won’t come to that, but an escalating situation is not a good one. The goal is to help you handle conflict, not audition for The Jerry Springer Show.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point to get you on the path towards healthy conflict. If you have any particularly helpful tips, let us know, we’d love to share them with everyone!