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Using Assertive Communication as a Way to Prevent Conflict in the Workplace

Pollack Peacebuilding by Jeremy Pollack

Practicing effective communication is one of the most impactful ways to prevent conflict in the workplace. Communication is where expectations are established, where needs are expressed, and where collaboration begins or ends. Without effective communication, misunderstandings can create negative impacts between colleagues or employees and their bosses.

Ways to Prevent Conflict in the Workplace

Last week we shared how understanding communication styles can help prevent conflict in the workplace. Recognizing the differences between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication can help managers and employees alike better identify their default approaches and what impacts they may have on those around them. Assertive communication tends to yield the best results when dealing with employee conflict but for those who operate passively or aggressively, it might be hard to know how to switch styles. Here are some ways to achieve an assertive communication style, no matter the setting you find yourself in.

Use Your Rational Mind

Remaining objective when you communicate can be one of the most powerful ways to prevent conflict in the workplace. This means reflecting on the facts of what’s happening without attaching your emotions to the problem or solution. Focus on what’s verifiable and express your understanding of what’s going on. This can help prevent emotions from escalating things, which includes decreasing the chances of the other party from feeling as though they have to become defensive. Avoid using judgments or assumptions about the other person’s motives but instead offer a clear and objective description of events and experiences that you need to talk about, gently suggesting a different approach that could be more fruitful. Some good starters for this part of the conversation include “I’ve noticed…” or “Based on our conversation, I had the expectation…”

Express Your Feelings or Expectations

Assertive communication means you can express positive and negative ideas in a way that is open, honest, respectful, and fair. So if you’re reflecting on a problem and are seeking a solution — whether that’s requiring a different collaborative approach on a team project or asserting a need with management or HR — you’ll want to best speak from your own experience so others know what you’re needing and wanting. Offer a brief, non-disapproving description of a possible outcome or emotion triggered by the situation. This can help give the other person and idea of what your experience is without feeling blamed for it. Eliminating blame is one of the important ways to prevent conflict in the workplace. Communication coaching is accessible to you and your team if this feels insurmountable in the context of work.

Suggest Change

One of the important issue resolution strategies is to effectively work toward resolutions. When asserting your need for change, it’s typically best to ask for behavioral, not attitudinal changes. You can’t reasonably expect someone to change what they believe or feel just because you don’t like it. But you can ask someone to change how they act or treat you and hold space for how you feel about it.

Other tips for effectively asserting a need or solution include:

  • Ask for one change at a time. Don’t give a laundry list as that can overwhelm and pressure the other person.
  • Ask for something that can be changed now, and not “the next time this happens,” as it might be forgotten by then and blame may follow.
  • Be specific and concrete. Vague requests like “be nicer,” “compensate me more,” or “work faster” don’t paint a clear enough picture of what you mean and may circumvent other, more effective ways to prevent conflict in the workplace.

Mastering good communication skills and learning how to deal with coworker conflict can be challenging in the context of work. Don’t go it alone. The experienced professionals at PPS can help you and your team find better ways to collaborate.


Vanessa Rose

Vanessa Rose is a psychotherapist and writer who enjoys wandering aimlessly around Los Angeles in her free time. With a background in business, she embraces how structure and goals can significantly support the journey into the wild west of psychological exploration. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also… MORE >

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