3 Myths About Workplace Conflict

April is Workplace Conflict Awareness Month. Let’s take the opportunity to dispel these myths about conflict.

Difficult people are almost always the cause of conflict. People’s behavior, not the people themselves, can cause difficulty and be the underlying cause of problems. While bad behavior is certainly a contributor of conflict, it’s not the only cause.

Failing to set realistic expectations is a big contributor. If people don’t understand what the organization, their manager, or their teammates expect, confusion and conflict can result. Set expectations early, beginning with the job interview and again during the first days of employment.  Let people know the job entails – its functions and tasks – and what success in the role looks like.

Changes in the workplace is another contributing factor. Globalization, generational differences, changing technology, or new leadership are just a few changes people may encounter. Change is uncomfortable, but we all have a choice about how we react – embrace it, or resist it, or wait and see.  To lessen the likelihood of conflicts, change can and should be managed effectively.

The problem at the root of a conflict is usually obvious. People often assume that they understand a problem. Information is presented and it’s human nature to jump to conclusions. Central to managing conflict is identifying the problem. No matter with whom you are in conflict – your boss, teammate, employee or peer – acknowledging the problem is critical to solving it.  

Getting to the source involves conversations and some detective work. There are a number of skills that you can use such as attending skills, which put everyone on an even level, encouraging skills which helps others to elaborate, and reflecting skills that allow the opportunity to restate in your own words what you’ve hear the other person say. Get good information by varying the types of questions you ask, such as open-ended questions, close-ended questions, or opinion-based questions.

In conflict, there are always winners and losers. True, if you follow the theory of position-based bargaining, but it won’t solve the problem or resolve anything. A position is what we demand from the other person(s). When positions become the focus of the conflict, the problem can get covered up along with any useful solution.

Focusing on interests – needs, desires and outcomes is more effective. Think about what your interest(s) is and be able to articulate it to yourself and others, explaining why it’s important. Then separate your position from your interest. Making your interests come alive will increase the likelihood that the other side will understand them. It will help to move the discussion away from positions. 

Consider the other person’s prospective. Stand in their shoes and contemplate their interests. Underlying your interests and theirs are mutual needs and values, which helps everyone to make informed decisions and be better equipped to create options to resolve the conflict.

Let’s celebrate Workplace Conflict Awareness Month by encouraging everyone to focus on positive conflict resolution in their organizations. Please consider sharing this post with your network so we can spread the word that we can all positively address workplace conflict.

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