A Practical Guide to
Resolving Workplace Conflict
When it comes to conflict, it's pretty easy to take a bad situation and make it even worse. We say the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time. Our emotions get the best of us and pretty soon things have spiraled out of control. It is possible, however, to take a strategic approach to conflict resolution. With a little thought and planning, you can effectively work out problems with coworkers, clients, family, and friends. The next time you're engaged in a quarrel or dispute, try the following two-step approach:
Step one: Assess the situation. Ask yourself three key questions:
1. Is there a real issue here? Or am I making a big deal over nothing? Could I be misinterpreting or overreacting to the situation?
2. What's the issue? Sometimes the overt disagreement is not the same as the underlying problem. Dig deep enough to discover the true issue.
3. Is it worth pursuing? Is this a one-time situation or a chronic problem? Is it disruptive to my work or merely annoying? Maybe I should simply let it go.
Let's use a real-world example to bring this concept to life. Several years ago, I was sitting in my parked car in the lot of a local shopping mall. I happened to have a sleeping child in the back seat. (For those of you with children or grandchildren, you know the sage advice: Never wake a sleeping baby!) As I waited for my daughter to finish her nap, I suddenly heard and felt a scraping across the passenger side of my car. A station wagon had pulled into the spot next to mine — and taken a line of paint off the entire side of my car in the process. For some undisclosed reason, the driver of the car refused my request to write down her insurance information. When I walked to the front of her vehicle to see her license plate, she stretched her arms across front of the car in order to block my view. Strange, I know, but true.
So, let's assess the situation.
1. Is there a real issue here? Yes, without a doubt. This is not a case of me overreacting or making something out of nothing.
2. What's the issue? Someone has damaged my property and refused to take responsibility for it.
3. Is it worth pursuing? Yes, absolutely. I need the other driver's information so that she or her insurance company can cover the cost of repairing my vehicle.
Step two: Make a choice. How can you best handle the problem? Possibilities include:
1. Let it go. Maybe it's not a big deal after all. Perhaps it's minor in the context of your overall relationship with the other party. Or hey, maybe the other guy was right after all.
2. Work it out. Talk to the other person. Get her side of the story. Be receptive and respectful. Look for areas of agreement and seek out a reasonable compromise.
3. Enlist the help of a third party. This is the right approach when you've been unsuccessful in your efforts to work it out with the other party and you aren't willing to simply let it go. In this circumstance, you may need to involve someone with the authority to mandate a solution.
In the incident described above, I ultimately chose to enlist the help of my local police department. I wasn't willing to let it go, couldn't work it out directly with the other driver and needed the assistance of someone with the authority to mandate a solution. A report was filed, my car got repaired and the damages were paid by the other driver's insurance company. Conflict resolved.
In Liz's new Ask the Expert column, you will find real-world strategies for improving on-the-job effectiveness, advancing your career, and successfully navigating workplace relationships. Go to http://www.parexcellencemag.com. To submit a question, send an email to Liz@BywaterConsultingGroup.com and include Ask the Expert in the subject line.
Liz Bywater will be speaking at the January 16, 2008, meeting of the Women's Business Forum (http://www.womensbusinessforum.org/). The topic of her presentation will be: Following Through on New Year’s Resolutions: Moving Beyond Mere Good Intentions. The meeting runs from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. and is open to the public. Come join us for this fun and interactive presentation!
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Best wishes for a peaceful and joyous holiday season,
Liz Bywater, PhD
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