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How do I handle conflict at work?

If there is a disagreement or conflict in the workplace, pretending it’s not there will just allow the problem to grow.

How do I handle conflict at work?
[Source photo: Shvets Production/Pexels]

Welcome to Pressing Questions, Fast Company’s mini-advice column. Every week, deputy editor Kathleen Davis, host of The New Way We Work podcast, will answer the biggest and most pressing workplace questions.

Q: How do I handle conflict at work? 

A: This is another one of those uncomfortable but common—and sometimes necessary—parts of work life, and my advice on how to handle it will have some similarities to my advice on how to give negative feedback and how to deal with an annoying coworker. Much like negative feedback, it might be helpful to reframe conflict as opportunity. If you are able to resolve it, things might actually get better.

The first and most important thing is not to let it go unchecked. “Ignore it and it will go away” never works. If there’s a disagreement or conflict, pretending like it’s not there will just allow the problem to grow.

Before you try to resolve the issue, prepare for the conversation. Author Lisa Danels suggests asking yourself questions to help process your emotions, like: “What is really bothering me about the conflict?” “What do I fear losing?” and “How would I like this conflict to be resolved?”

Next, much like when you are trying to change someone’s mind, it’s helpful to try to see the disagreement from the other person’s point of view before attempting to resolve the problem. It can be hard, but try to find a place of compassion and try not to assume negative intent. Danels suggests asking yourself, “What needs does this person have that I might have overlooked? How do they view the situation differently? What assumptions do they have about the situation?”

With that prep done, you’re ready to have the uncomfortable conversation. Start by calling it what it is, by saying something like “I know this is uncomfortable, but we should talk about our conflict.” Then, ask questions to better understand their point of view in a way that isn’t blaming them by using phrases like “Can you help me understand what your thought process was?”

Before you jump in with your point of view, Danels advises to “listen beyond the words and see how the person feels,” and play back what the person has expressed. Then, and only then, is it time for you to express your own needs and feelings.

Once you both feel heard, you will both finally be at a place to talk about solutions in a way that is more collaborative. Good luck!

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Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine. More

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