Workplace conflict resolution: Turning office discord from grief into growth

We’ve all been there before: dealing with that person in the office who always seems to be creating strife in our lives. Instead of letting a conflict rule (and sometimes ruin) our day, why not turn it into a point of growth for ourselves and our company?

It’s a difficult concept to grasp in a world that seems to be fueled by conflict and shock value. When did we last see a “reality” show where a conflict ended in two parties resolving their issue and devising a mature, sensible resolution? But the real reality, so to speak, is that as civilized adults in the workplace, we have to be able to combat conflict in a healthy and civilized manner.

Before we can start resolving our interoffice spats, we need to understand why they occur. The simple answer is differences. As simple as it sounds, everyone is different. We all have different values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, desires… the list goes on and on. Our differences make life richer and more interesting, to be sure; but they also make conflict inevitable.

Unfortunately, it often seems easier to grumble to ourselves, complain to other co-workers, and behave passive-aggressively than to confront a conflict directly. Not only will the passive approach eat up time that could be used to do actual work, but it will likely affect the rest of the office and bring down coworkers’ morale as well. Instead, we should attempt to work through the conflict.  A first step might be to suggest a meeting with our coworker. This meeting shouldn’t take place through a series of emails or phone calls; in-person conversation is best for clear communication.

When the meeting is taking place, we need to be prepared to listen.  A simple fact about humans is that we all just want to be heard—isn’t it safe to assume the person we’re in conflict with feels the same way?  We should start the meeting with an open mind and just listen. Not judging, not internally preparing our rebuttal, but listening. Ideally, both sides will have a chance to convey where they are coming from. Only after really listening to one another can the two sides move on to the next step of the process: finding a solution.

A good way to start finding a solution is to do some brainstorming.  Both parties should have a chance to come up with different ideas for a resolution, and both parties need to agree on acceptable criteria for reaching an agreement.  Once a solution is settled upon, the parties should ensure that it is fair, balanced, realistic and future-oriented, so that repeat conflicts can be prevented.  If two parties can’t see eye to eye, it might be necessary to have a manager or HR representative mediate and provide guidance for reaching a solution.

Of course, conflict resolution is often more complicated than these simple steps, but the idea is that conflict can ultimately result in better understanding and a better working environment for all.  Turning a workplace challenge into an opportunity for growth is a reality we’d all be happy to live with.