Coping with workplace conflict

Getting along with the people you work with is a significant part of living a fulfilled life, especially when you are at your job for so much of the day. So if you feel like you’d rather hide than deal with conflict, congratulations – you’re in the majority. Most humans run and avoid conflict like it’s the plague. What is even worse for conflict-avoiders is dealing with the small percentage of personality types who don’t fear confrontation. As luck would have it, those personalities who tend to embrace conflict are usually in leadership or management positions. Trying to avoid people won’t help you avoid conflict, because if you were the only person in a room, you would still likely to experience conflict within yourself.How can you become more comfortable with conflict?Here are some tips:• Stop fighting the laws of nature: Conflict is natural and inherent in every living organism. I believe even amoebas in a Petri dish are banging against the side of the glass trying to deal with the conflict of … well, being stuck in a Petri dish.It is through adversity that organisms change, grow and learn, and we humans are just big organisms.Changing our perspective to “conflict is a normal part of life” can really shift us from a fear-driven place to a neutral point of view.• Try being curious: When faced with a controversy with a colleague, direct or supervisor, try to be curious about where they are coming from. You can practice this by listening to what is being said, including the body language of the person. Then, either clarify what you think you heard them say, and/or make an observation about their body language – for example, “I can see you’re very passionate about this, Bob.” This eases tension and shows you are willing to try to understand Bob’s point of view.Examples of practicing being curious would be to ask open-ended questions, or make statements such as, “Tell me more about that.” Often, when we understand where others are coming from, we have more tolerance of and even empathy for them. For example, if your boss is suddenly micro-managing, dictating and being inflexible, you might be angry or frustrated with his or her behavior, but you also can be curious about what has caused the change.Eventually, you may learn that the company is putting more mandates and more pressure on your boss, and that is the cause for the change in behavior. Instead of avoiding your boss, you could be curious about how your team could help out or work smarter.• Be approachable: It’s a basic human need to be heard and understood. Giving others the opportunity to express themselves freely, without fearing they will be shut down, allows for the open exchange of information and opinions. It also sets the stage for an atmosphere of neutrality, and therefore others may be more willing to hear your views. In essence, the more approachable you appear to others, the more likely they are to talk things out with you.The adage, “Two heads are better than one,” can be a helpful mantra when dealing with disagreements.Being open to other people’s perspectives may open your eyes to new viewpoints or solutions that were not on your radar.• Common ground: When helping people negotiate conflicts, I often witness all parties realizing that their views were not as far apart as they had originally thought. Often, highly charged emotions get in the way of being able to see the common ground first.Typically, people approach conflict with a focus on the differences in viewpoints and a defensive posture. Using the aforementioned “be curious” and “be approachable,” we can drop defensiveness and start by talking about what we have in common around an issue, thereby automatically minimizing the differences.• Agree to disagree: We have all heard this advice.The fact is that not all conflicts end with everyone’s needs met. However, if you choose to remain rational in difficult situations, you may find that both parties can agree to disagree, yet retain a mutual respect for how negotiations were handled.Whether the dispute was with a colleague, management, or direct, you have maintained your approachability to address future conflicts. After all, conflict is inherent, so it will occur again.Heidi Page, a psychotherapist and owner of Evolve Counseling & Training, a private counseling practice in Manchester, also co-owns Platinum Principle Training & Development. She can be reached at 603-716-1282 or