How to Deal with Coworker Conflict (Without Drama)

Did you ever stop and think about how much time you spend with your coworkers compared to how much time you spend with your family? If you realize you probably spend more time with your coworkers than you do with people outside work, you’re not alone. When you’re with anyone for that many hours, it’s no surprise that you may end up involved in a conflict with a coworker at some point, especially since work can be a stressful place. Here’s how to deal with coworker conflict (without drama).

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Talk About It in Person

Trying to pretend nothing is wrong when it’s clear that there’s an issue is a bad idea. Gossiping with other coworkers instead of facing the problem is also a bad idea. The longer you try to ignore tension or a conflict, the more likely it’s going to snowball into a dramatic scene. Confront the problem sooner rather than later. Schedule a meeting with your coworker in a private place where you can discuss your differences without interference from others. This should be a face-to-face conversation. Trying to have this type of discussion through email can lead to even more misunderstandings.

Control Your Emotions

While you might feel upset or angry with your coworker, it’s imperative that you control your emotions. Keep the rational side of your brain in control. Since you’re at your workplace, remember that losing your temper isn’t an option. Say what you’re thinking but keep a level head and inject humor if you can. If your colleague becomes hostile or emotional, that doesn’t mean you should do the same.

Avoid making accusatory or attacking statements such as “It’s your fault that…” or “If you can’t understand…”  or “You didn’t do this or that”. Instead focus on the problem, not the person. An example of making a statement without sounding like you’re attacking them is “The project is behind schedule.”

Listen with an Open Mind

Either you or your coworker may have had tunnel vision lately and are only able to see your side of the conflict. When your coworker expresses how they see the issue, listen with an open mind and don’t interrupt.  Recognize that it’s possible there’s simply been a misunderstanding. You may want to take some notes as they present their side of things. You may want to repeat back to them what you’ve heard with a statement such as, “What I’m hearing that you need is…”

Look for a Common Ground

Strive to work for a solution that could work for both of you. Ask your coworker to brainstorm the options with you. Even though you’ve both been feeling that you’re right and the other person is wrong, there’s a good chance that you have at least a few common goals. Make statements that point out these common goals, such as “Do we both agree that this has to be completed by Thursday?”

Looking for common ground doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to give them what they want. Show willingness to compromise, but they should be willing to meet you halfway.

Recognize When You Need to Involve a Third Party

In some situations, trying to have a rational conversation doesn’t solve the problem, especially if there’s unconscious bias or a personality conflict. If the other person refuses to have a conversation or refuses to try to find a solution that’s acceptable to you both, you may need to involve a third party. This could be your manager or your HR department. You definitely need to involve HR if the problem is that the other person is sexually harassing you or bullying you.

For information on coworker conflict services, reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

Valerie Dansereau

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