Recently, at an inter-department meeting I happened to be attending as an external consultant, two of the attendees got into a heated argument over a minor item on the agenda. Both had strong opinions on how the issue ought to be tackled, and neither was willing to back down from their stand. I’m ready to bet that if you asked both of them a day later if they remembered the moment everything spun out of control, neither would be able to pin it accurately.
This incident, however, did have a negative impact on their work relationship and even their interactions with members of the other team were coloured as a result. It affected not only their performance but that of their teams as well.
Conflict is never beneficial for anyone, especially not an organisation that depends on optimum performance from its entire workforce. But, where there are humans, each with their opinions, value systems, and personalities there is potential for conflict. So how does one diffuse a potential conflict situation? Here are 5 best tips for the next time you find yourself in a conflict situation and want to diffuse it quickly:
Preempt the escalation
If you find yourself having problems with a co-worker, immediately begin fixing your relationship. Don’t wait for the issue to clear up on its own. Chances are it won’t. Waiting or dwelling on problems only worsens the situation. Do it before it reaches a stage where it cannot be resolved.
Do it in person
Addressing a problem face-to-face is always better than email or text. It’s a lot easier to say be unwittingly hurtful or argumentative when speaking electronically. Without nuance, a bad situation only gets worse when things get taken out of context. If you can do it physically, do it over a Skype call. If you cannot avoid electronic communication, be mindful of your tone and vocabulary, since the recipient won’t have the benefit of body language or gestures to interpret your meaning.
Rein in your emotions
Overreacting or reacting emotionally gets you nowhere. Stick to the point. It’s easier to respond to specifics rather than generalisations. There is no reason to turn the conflict into a fight about every aspect of your relationship with them.
Be an active listener
Don’t only be focused on putting forth your point of view. Instead, actively listen to what the other person has to say. Take care to address their issues and concerns. You’d be surprised by how quickly you can de-escalate when the other person knows you’re taking their concerns seriously.
Respond with respect
Even you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, don’t ridicule them or dismiss their point of view. It is always helpful to take a few seconds and collect your thoughts before you respond. This will keep you from saying something hurtful or uncalled for. Meeting your colleague halfway will make them more likely to respond positively to the issues you raise during the discussion.
Always remember no one wins in a fight. All it does is create disharmony and affect the balance of things. As Stephen Moyer says, “Conflict is drama, and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.”
We’re interested in your tried and tested ways of dealing with conflict. Tell us in the comments.
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