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Avoiding Conflict in the Workplace

No employee wants to become embroiled in a workplace dispute. If conflict at work isn’t resolved, it can cause stress, frustration, loss of sleep, a bad temperament, illness or other issues for individual employees.

According to research undertaken by personality assessment consultancy OPP in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, 85% of employees have to deal with conflict at some point. Perhaps not surprisingly, another big trigger for disputes is the relationship that employees have with their line managers.

Is it possible to avoid workplace conflict entirely? The answer is: probably not. Conflict, disputes and disagreements are a part of daily life so it’s important that people feel able to deal with them when they arise. However, there are tactics that people can adopt to reduce the risk of becoming involved in conflict that adversely affects their health. We’ve highlighted some of them below:

1. Be positive.

If you want to work in a more positive environment, you have to be positive. It’s amazing how much of an effect a cheerful disposition can have during the working day. In addition, a number of studies show that positive people are better placed to deal with stress, anxiety and challenges.

Remaining positive will make it more difficult for others to behave badly towards you, thereby reducing the likelihood of you becoming involved in serious disputes.

2. Be aware of personality clashes.

The OPP report indicates that 49% of workplace conflict can be attributed to personality clashes. Managers find this type of problem difficult to resolve, although there is value in identifying underlying tensions before things become serious.

Avoiding certain individuals in the office won’t work but you should certainly not become involved in other people’s disagreements. Cliques in the workplace can be particularly damaging and can even result in dismissals if the environment becomes impossible. If anyone asks you to align yourself with them against others, simply say that you value working with everybody.

3. Communicate respectfully.

The old mantra of ‘treating people as you would like to be treated’ is a good tactic in avoiding workplace conflict. Asking people for their co-operation rather than giving instructions, enquiring about people’s weekends and thanking others for help they have given you will help you to maintain positive relationships with others.

You should also be careful of how you convey messages by email. It’s easy to cause offence because the other person can’t see you body language and you can’t adjust what you have said when you see their reaction.

4. Don’t get involved in emotional manipulation.

Some people are used to getting their own way by using emotions, be they anger, fear or upset. If they succeed in doing this in the workplace, it will cause resentment and lead to arguments or blame shifting.

If you have to deal with someone who regularly becomes tearful, you should simply tell them that you’re going to give them some breathing space, walk away and then return at another time. A calm approach will help you to avoid unnecessary conflict and contribute to a better working environment.

5. Know what’s important

Disputes can grow from the smallest of issues. Something as inconsequential as taking someone else’s lunch from the fridge can escalate into accusations of poor work performance. Once you have an impression of a colleague from a particular incident, you will look for other examples, however small, to reinforce that opinion.

It’s important to acknowledge that squabbles will take place now and again and that they should stay at that level – minor disagreements that should be figured out and forgotten.


Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond… MORE >

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