How to tackle workplace conflict head-on


Conflict in any part of our lives can be the pits, but conflict at work? That can get especially complicated.

On top of the work we already must do, sometimes it can feel like it would take a herculean effort to deal with a workplace conflict.  The good news is that you don't have to figure this out alone. Here are some tips to help you face workplace conflict head-on:

Normalize speaking up in the moment.

This may be uncomfortable at first, but the more you bring up things in the moment, the easier it will get.

"We want to normalize speaking up when these things happen in real time, so that it doesn't have to be a secret, so that no one has to feel like they're being unprofessional because they stand up for themselves," says Tiffany Jana. They're the founder and CEO of TMI Consulting, a management consulting firm that focuses on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

When speaking up, use these guiding principles: Keep it factual, keep it short and keep it as kind as possible.

If somebody uses an offensive term at work, for example, you or a colleague could call it out by saying, "Someone just used the term 'slave driver.' And, you know, we don't use that term anymore. That is antiquated. That is hurtful....We want to acknowledge that that happened and apologize if anyone was hurt."

Taking up space at work isn't easy. Here's how employees can speak up for one another.

If you're in a situation where someone at work continues to use offensive language or behave in ways that are not inclusive to you or others, you might want to start documenting that behavior.

"If somebody leaves you off one or two emails, it doesn't seem like a big deal," they say. "But when you've got six months of documentation of being cut off, left out, overlooked for [an] opportunity, then you might actually have something.  So, make sure that you take meticulous documentation."

Check in with yourself.

What do you do about a co-worker who isn't being outright offensive, but begins meetings with distractions like sharing too many personal details about their last date or their diet plan?

Tap into what you're feeling to decide whether the issue needs addressing. Ask yourself the following questions:

•Is this something that is constantly bothering me?

•Is this something I feel strongly about?

•How much energy do I want to put into this?

If you find yourself in the situation ... you may want to address it. Workers can build resentment and then frustration, and that bleeds into their work as well and their energy and attitude going into the workplace.

The person is not the

problem — the problem is the problem.

A shift in perception about the problem can go a long way. "Perception is 100% of that conflict — the reason why you're in conflict is because you [have] different perceptions”. If you accept that starting point, you can focus on behaviors that are upsetting, not personality traits.

You're not going to have a productive conversation if you go into the conversation thinking the worst about a person.

That co-worker or supervisor who seems to be ghosting you after you spoke up in a meeting. Maybe they aren't mad at you. Maybe they've been stressed at home with a sick partner. Instead of assuming they are unreliable or flaky, you could break the tension and talk to them about what you sensed was a change in behavior.

Have a conversation, and make sure to listen actively.

If you're not sure how to initiate a conversation with someone you're in conflict with at work, you have some options. You can meet one on one; you can have an ombud mediate your conversation or you can ask a human resources representative to help. In each scenario, some useful strategies to having these conversations will hopefully lead to a more fruitful and positive outcome.

Once you've addressed the issue with a colleague, agree on a solution.  One example of a solution is to agree on how feedback should be provided: "If you have feedback for me, I would rather we do it over the phone or in person. Don't write me emails."

Be your own best advocate — and protect your peace.

If things aren't improving after your conversation — or maybe they've even escalated — seek out trusted sources at work.  Seek out the HR rep and lean on them. But if you're in a situation where HR has been part of the problem, you shouldn't feel the burden of fixing a toxic workplace.

"If you are going to work, day after day, month after month, and you have adequately named the challenges, proposed solutions that might work for you, and you're not getting feedback and you're not getting any kind of flex in your direction —that might mean it's time to find a new place to work.

Conflict resolution is not easy, on the employee nor the employer, or among co-workers, or even in your family and with friends.  But with some time, using good communicative skills, patience, good listening skills, and teamwork, most concerns can be worked out.