When you experience tension with someone at work, and especially when there is a person you clash heads with, this conflict affects your work.

While you’ll have to deal with some tension and it can be a good thing, learning how to avoid unnecessary conflict is a valuable skill. Because negative conflict can take time away from work, employers will value people who can prevent it from occurring. And, as a leader, you will be able to help those you lead through conflict.

A CPP study found the primary causes of workplace conflict to be personality clashes, stress, and workload. And, the best strategy is always to avoid conflict, as Sun Tzu teaches in his book, The Art of War. Here are some tips to help you do that and to lead others to do the same.

Communication tips to avoid workplace conflict

  1. Think before you speak. I know you’ve heard this one but it’s worth thinking about. Before taking action, think over the consequences of what you plan on saying might bring. What are you going to gain from what you plan on saying?
  2. Make sure you communicate enough. Much work conflict stems from a lack of communication. Be clear about expectations and what you can and cannot do. Ask questions to make sure there is understanding.
  3. Apologize. One of the best ways to deal with an angry person is to say, “I’m sorry.” This will calm them down. Also apologize for your part in the conflict.
  4. Use business language. Overly general, judgmental language puts the other person in a defensive mood. Stick with objective, professional language at work and focus on the behaviors, not the person. Share how the person’s behavior impacts you.
  5. Listen actively and respectfully. Let them finish and process what they said. Don’t interrupt the person speaking.
  6. Spend more time with people you don’t get along with. By working together, you can understand each other better and maybe develop some empathy.

Personal tips to avoid workplace conflict

  1. Don’t ignore conflict. You might think this strategy works, but it only serves to make the situation worse. Recognize it and work to resolve it.
  2. Keep displeasure to yourself. Don’t gripe with other coworkers. When you do this, you can bring everyone down. Complaining can also reflect negatively on you.
  3. Work judiciously. If you are getting your work done and not wasting time, you’ll run into fewer problems. If you are always talking or playing around, other people will begin to resent you.
  4. Part with your ego. Handle workplace issues calmly.
  5. Don’t let your emotions drive decisions. Make sure that the facts are what drive your decision.
  6. Seek out areas of potential conflict. Be proactive about people and areas that you think might lead to conflict. Using an assessment tool such as MBTI, Myers Briggs, would be helpful in this situation.
  7. Don’t take things personally. It’s natural for people to have different feelings, behaviors, and reactions.
  8. Be open to constructive criticism. Being able to do this can provide an opportunity for learning and growth.
  9. Learn to say no. Create realistic boundaries and stick to them.
  10. Prepare. Know your own position and intentions before speaking to someone about the tension between you.

Procedural and administrative tips to avoid workplace conflict

  1. Keep records. If employees have issues, keep a note of the meeting and what was agreed upon.
  2. Have a grievance procedure in place. Communicate to all employees what it is and the processes it includes.
  3. Introduce fair and equal recognition initiatives. Recognize accomplishment so employees feel valued.
  4. Set employee expectations. Make sure everyone understands the company goals and expectations.

What other tips for avoiding workplace conflict could you add? Which of the techniques above  have you found to be effective?


Photo Credit: Flickr user  Jerry Bunkers