Ways to Prevent Conflict in the Workplace: Avoid Making Assumptions

Humans of all kinds, whether on the clock or not, have a tendency to treat assumptions or hypotheses as empirical fact when we either don’t have the information we need to make sense of something, or when we have the information but it still doesn’t make sense in relation to our emotions or needs. While making assumptions to fill in the gap of knowledge is natural, confusing assumptions for the facts is one of the major sparks for conflict between people. This is why developing a skill to check the facts on your thoughts and feelings is one of the ways to prevent conflict in the workplace.

Ways to Prevent Conflict in the Workplace

Sometimes we find ourselves convinced that our assumptions are fact, especially if they’re accompanied by strong feelings. Say, for instance, I’m giving a presentation in front of a large crowd of colleagues about which I feel nervous and perhaps insecure. When I get up to the podium and start speaking, I see that one of my peers in the crowd has a flat facial expression. I assume their facial expression to mean I’m a terrible speaker who doesn’t know what I’m talking about and is probably boring the crowd.

What my assumption doesn’t take into consideration, though, is that person may be tired from a long day, may be listening attentively in a way that looks disconnected but actually isn’t, or may be upset about something else entirely having nothing to do with me. The assumption also forgets that I’m feeling insecure about the presentation so almost anything can easily reinforce that idea. The facts in that situation would be that I’m nervous and this person has a flat facial expression; the assumptions would be what sentiments I believe that facial expression means. Distinguishing these is important for preventing or solving employee conflict.

If I don’t separate fact from assumption, however, I may hold a grudge against that colleague and be wondering “what’s their problem?” I might jump to conclusions the next time we’re partnered on a project together and assume before we even begin that they don’t like or respect me. That can cause me to go into that project defensively and essentially be ready for a fight. To avoid letting assumptions change the narrative and create tension, here are some steps to check the facts:

Identify Your Emotions

Checking in with your feelings isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind at work, especially if your company culture doesn’t nurture that. But this reflection supports most conflict prevention strategies in the workplace as conflict is inherently emotional. Begin by understanding what emotion is present for you.

Identify the Precipitating Event

What happened just before that emotion came? Did you experience environmental stress or some kind of event? Try to remain objective as you review this event, reporting only the facts and not necessarily how it felt or what you hypothesize about it. Leaders who understand the benefits of conflict resolution training know that understanding the facts of the event through the lens of each disputing party member is important.

Identify Your Assumptions

Acknowledge what assumptions or hypotheses are arising about this situation. Are you feeling some kind of threat from these assumptions? When we look for ways to prevent conflict in the workplace, this assessment can provide helpful information about what triggers discomfort, tension, and the inevitable dispute.

Identify the Facts

What do I know for sure about this situation? Do I have evidence to support my assumptions or hypotheses? Is the emotion I’m feeling, and/or its intensity, fitting the facts? If you’re not in the conflict itself but are helping to resolve it, this objective view can help, too. If you’re struggling with how to resolve personality conflicts at work, get an understanding of what each party involved believes is the truth. Never assume someone else’s assumptions as that can escalate conflict, but support them in navigating their own pursuit for facts.

Teaching ways to prevent conflict in the workplace doesn’t come naturally for all managers. Feel supported by experienced professionals who can help with preventing and solving employee conflict. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today to get the right solutions for your team.

Ways to Prevent Conflict in the Workplace