Conflict is unavoidable, but how you manage it makes all the difference
How many times have you been in a situation where voicing your opinion or course-correcting a team decision on the basis of your expertise was necessary? How many times did you let go because of a fear of conflict? As you grow through the ranks and start to deliver high-impact work in teams of highly experienced individuals, conflicts will often become unavoidable.
In my opinion, crucial decision-making at the workplace can often be a full-contact sport. Conflict, although sometimes unnecessary, is often also a sign of the levels of engagement of the warring parties. Workplaces are made of fully functional adults with their own professional experiences and perspectives. If people are not voicing differing opinions, they are perhaps not engaged enough to bother. Conflicts can be necessary to enable new ideas and fresh perspectives to take shape in the boardroom or cubicles. But the word itself carries so much negative baggage that even most level-headed professionals often shy away from it.
In my opinion, conflict because of ideology or deep-rooted individual expertise is important in any healthy workplace. Whether it results in a cold war that affects overall delivery or a well thought-out solution for the problem at hand really depends on how you manage conflict. After all, yes, there is a right way to do it.
Bring your point of view to the table
Don’t just communicate a point of view; you’re no better off over communicating. Broad strokes of opinion laid out quickly, and often rudely, will not be taken seriously, neither will gossip. There is no point speaking your point of view only by the water cooler or in the pantry to your close circle of work friends. Speak to the person with whom you disagree. Tell them what led you to believe so strongly about your perspective. Show them the if-then situation. Open channels for plain-speak. It is extremely crucial for both parties to see each other’s points of view and how they might impact the result.
Don’t just talk, listen too
Ask intelligent questions and focus on understanding the other party’s motivation and differing perspective that is causing the conflict. Listening deeply and actively also gives you an opportunity to introspect. Thanks to your own individual experience, motivation, or perspective, you may not have thought of the nuances the other person is bringing to the conversation.
Know what acceptable behaviour is and stick with it religiously
Be an adult and don’t throw tantrums. Keep the decibels low, be articulate, know when to stop, and don’t cross the boundaries of professionalism. In times of conflict, it is also extremely important to keep emotions out of the equation. Stay objective at all times and try not to take things personally. Avoid first-person pronouns and constantly focus on the shared goal. Most importantly, stay calm, objective, and grounded the entire time. If that means you need to take a step back, evaluate, control emotional triggers, or get some objective advice, do it. Continuing to speak and argue when things are as heated as they get during peak conflict will not resolve the issue. Take some time to centre yourself before you return to the discussion.
Stay committed to working it out
The other party must understand that you are committed to finding a solution that will take both opinions into consideration. This brings down defensiveness and lets all parties focus only on finding a solution and not proving a point.
Pick your battles
Let’s face it. It is hard to take someone seriously if they have the reputation of turning every disagreement into a conflict bottleneck. Evaluate if relentlessly pushing your opinion or perspective on the situation will actually have any impact on the end goal. Go all out if it will, but learn to take a step back when it will not. Arguing just for the sake of an argument, or to show how clued in and experienced you are, is not just a very inefficient way of working, it can also come across as rather petty.
For teams of fully functional, opinionated adults, it is extremely important to constantly remember the shared goal. It becomes even more crucial in times of conflict. Being mindful of it in hard times instead of letting emotions overwhelm you is the only way to move on from a conflict. Remember, it is just a work conflict – there is not, and should never be, anything personal about it.