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HR Handled Right

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The coworker who constantly interrupts you when you’re talking. The team member who responds “when I get around to it” when you asked for an estimated date of completion. The work colleague who attempts to undermine you by withholding critical information that you need to get your assignment done.

Many employees cite dealing with difficult coworkers as the most stressful aspect of their job. If you’re in that boat, here are some guidelines that can help you resolve your workplace conflict – or let you know it’s time to go up the chain of command.

  • Remain calm. We humans are emotional tuning forks; we tune into the emotions of those around us and others do the same. Thus, if we stay calm in the face of conflict, it will be more likely that others will get a handle on their emotions and consider your viewpoint.
  • Ask questions: In the early stages of a conflict the most powerful tool to resolve it is simple: Ask! If somebody has done something that made you angry, if you don’t understand somebody’s viewpoint, if you don’t understand their actions – ask! Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason why that person does what he does. Even if the conflict has been going on for a while, the best way to resolve a conflict (and show you are truly seeking peace) is to give the other person a chance to talk first.
  • Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on; how does someone change a “bad attitude” or “lack of focus?” State the problem clearly; “when you talk in meetings before I am finished, I am distracted and I can’t listen to you properly when I am distracted. I would like you to wait until I am finished before you make your comments.”
  • Deal with only one issue at a time. Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself: While no strategy guarantees that your conflict will be resolved, losing your temper, calling the other person names, or rolling your eyes when your coworker is speaking pretty much guarantee that it won’t be. If you emotions are getting the better of you, call a time out and pick up the conversation later.
  • Propose solutions: Propose specific solutions, and invite the other person to propose solutions, too. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal, and be prepared for some compromise.
  • Know when to call in reinforcements: If you’ve done all the above, and the coworker continues to wreak havoc, you may need to escalate the situation. Ideally, you have a boss who is an effective conflict resolver and will work to resolve the situation without taking sides. Approach the conflict as a productivity issue, not an interpersonal dilemma, and be prepared to spell out how the conflict is adversely impacting your productivity and progress on projects.
  • Listen for facts and feelings. Try to determine what the other person is feeling by paying attention to his/her non-verbal messages. Check it out with the other person: “You sound angry. Is it because of something I said?” Repeat back to the person what you think he/she said. This will prevent misunderstandings and will ensure that you are both clear about the issues.

The Chinese symbol for the word “conflict” is comprised of the characters for danger and opportunity, reflecting conflict’s dual ability to hurt relationships or, if handled bravely, deepen it. Handled poorly, conflict between two coworkers can wreak havoc on a team and infect the entire department. Handled right, it can spark a greater understanding of how to meet the needs and wants of the people around us – and our own.

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