Mackay: Resolve to solve workplace conflicts

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • Updated: September 22, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Hercules, according to legend, grew increasingly irritated by a strange, menacing animal that kept blocking his path. In a fit of anger, he struck the animal with his club, killing it. As he continued on his path, he kept encountering the same animal, each time larger and more menacing than before. At last, a wise messenger appeared and warned Hercules to stop his furious assaults.

“The monster is Strife, and you are stirring it up,” said the messenger. “Just let it alone and it will shrivel and cease to trouble you.”

We all have conflict in our lives, whether at home or at work. How we deal with it determines whether it conquers us.

Human resources managers report that they spend anywhere from 24 to 60 percent of their time trying to resolve workplace conflicts, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Almost 60 percent of survey respondents have seen violent incidents in their workplace over the past three years, with “personality conflicts” as the main cause.

More troubling results from researchers at the University of North Carolina revealed:

• 53 percent of workers have lost time at work over worries about a previous or potential confrontation with a colleague.

• 28 percent have lost work time in their attempts to avoid confrontations.

• 37 percent are less committed to their employer because of a hostile workplace altercation.

• 22 percent say they’re putting less effort into their work due to conflicts.

So why can’t we all just get along?

Unless you work in a one-person operation, conflict is inevitable. There will be as many opinions as there are people. Most often, differences can be set aside and somehow, the work gets done.

But when a serious conflict arises, circumstances can change dramatically. Unresolved disagreements can cripple a workplace.

Before you blow your top, pause and listen. Pay attention to what the other person is saying, and demonstrate that you are listening carefully.

Make sure you know the real issue, and validate the other person’s feelings with a response. Talk about how the two — or three or more — of you might solve the problem cooperatively. If the solution is your responsibility, tell the other person what you plan to do to resolve the problem, and when he or she can expect the matter to be settled.

And it’s often effective to repeat yourself. When you have a point to get across and the other person is evasive or intimidating you with his or her point of view, calmly keep repeating your point of view or question. Keep the discussion focused on the central issue and refuse to be drawn into a spitting match.

If you come to the realization that your actions may have initiated the problem, accept or recognize your error or mistake. It is better to acknowledge the situation than to feel guilty or defensive about what has happened.

When someone makes a negative statement about you, ask for specific information. Use it to correct your behavior. However, if you feel someone is manipulating you, or just using you as a convenient target, keep asking for specifics. Chances are, they will get tired of the whole thing and give up. Remember, it’s no fun to fight with people who won’t fight back.

One final piece of advice: Don’t involve other co-workers in your disagreement. Recruiting supporters should be limited to political campaigns and athletic teams.

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