Understanding Workplace Conflict

Published Wednesday, March 24, 2010 7:54 AM

What do we learn every day wading through media streams, talking to disgruntled co-workers or engaging with our teenage children?

Conflict is part of life.

Workplace conflict can be particularly toxic because it disrupts worker productivity, hampers professional collaboration and jeopardizes the business bottom line.

Here are a few common causes of on-the-job conflict (as cited by CareerBuilder.com):

  • Differences in communication styles
  • A lack of a clear vision or mission
  • Unclear job expectations

According to this Entrepreneur article, conflict is really about tension that most of us respond to in one of three ways:

  • We shy away and are "reluctant to get involved in conversations that may be challenging, heated or potentially negative"
  • We overcompensate by reacting in a way that is "too loud, offensive or demeaning"
  • We take a proactive approach and embrace the situation with an open mind and willingness to interact

Whatever response we are naturally inclined to have, we can become better conflict managers if we heed expert advice that conflict can be a positive and constructive force in the workplace. It helps to look at the situation with an empathic eye by putting yourself in the other person's shoes. The odds of a good and healthy resolution also increase when we are able to see how we contributed to the conflict (since it is never a one-way street). I have shared that advice many times with my own children, in an effort to help them successfully resolve conflicts they have faced in their lives.

When conflict erupts - as it inevitably will - you and your co-workers might benefit from some or all of these strategies for dealing with difficult people at work. If you have any other conflict resolution strategies, please feel free to share them with us.

by Candie Harris

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