Deal With Workplace Conflict?
Tips for Managing Workplace Conflict
Direct Discussion - How to Approach a
Co-worker Why We Avoid
Dealing With Conflict
Are All Conflicts the Result of Personality
Clashes or Poor Behaviour
Communicating in Conflict
Managing Anger - Yours and Others
Being Hard on the Problem - Not the Person
The Role of Assumptions, Perceptions and
Expectations in Conflict
Communicating In Conflict
Communication is challenging even when
there isn’t a conflict. As diverse human beings we simply don’t always
attribute the same meaning to the same words. How we interpret what is
said to us is filtered through:
“who we are,
our values and beliefs,
positions, jobs, and more.”
When we add the dimension of conflict,
which often involves feelings of anger, frustration, or worry, clear and
effective communication becomes even more challenging.
In the following sections we focus on two
essential components of effective communication in conflict: active
listening, in order to understand your co-worker’s perspective, and
non-blaming assertiveness, to help him or her understand yours. Until
you understand the other person’s perspective, and they understand
yours, a resolution that meets both of your needs cannot be found.
Active listening involves a set of
interrelated skills: open-ended questioning, paraphrasing, acknowledging
feelings, non-verbal encouragers and summarizing. When used together
they effectively communicate to the other person that you want to listen
to them and to understand how they see the issue.
Open-ended questions invite people into
the discussion and require an individual response. They cannot be
answered with merely a “yes” or “no”. Open-ended questions often begin
with “What” or “How” such as, “What did you think about that?” or “How
was what I did a problem for you?” Open-ended questions also help the
other person consider what is important to them about the issue.
Miscommunication happens when we assume
we understand, but haven’t checked out that assumption. When we do, we
may find that we are misinterpreting some of what was said, or missing
some key element that is important to the other person. Paraphrasing not
only checks for clarity and accuracy of understanding, but also lets the
other person know they have been heard and understood.
We have all heard the communication
cliché “What I hear you saying is…” and probably don’t want to sound
like that when we are talking to people. It is important to use your own
words and style of speaking while still letting the other person know
what you have understood from what has said.
Often in our society we have been taught
that emotions are embarrassing, especially when they surface at
“inappropriate” times or places. Ignoring emotion is sometimes even
viewed as good manners, so that the other person’s “embarrassing”
emotion is not publicly acknowledged.
Active listening requires the
acknowledgement of not only the meaning of what people say but also the
other person’s emotional response. Examples are,
“I can see you
are still feeling a bit angry about what happened the other day.”
are proud of the improvements you made.”
“You are worried
about what new demands may be made on you.”
Acknowledging emotion deepens our
understanding of the issue and the meaning it has for the other person.
It also communicates to the other person that you not only understand
their words but also their feelings.
Saying the right words means very little
if our body is sending out a different message. If we really want to
listen to the other person and understand things from her/his point of
view we naturally face the person, make culturally appropriate eye
contact, nod our head and lean toward the person slightly. These
non-verbal encouragers help us demonstrate to the other person that we
are listening and care about what is being said.
Summarizing is about pulling together
what has been said over a period of time in a concise manner. It
provides an opportunity, like with paraphrasing, for your understanding
to be corrected or fine-tuned by the other person. It is also useful to
demonstrate the progress that has been made and where you are in your
Being assertive and non-blaming
Active listening is about understanding
the other person’s perspective. When it is your turn to explain your
point of view it is important to communicate in ways that are
non-blaming and appropriately assertive. Acting assertively implies an
ability to speak up for yourself - your wants and needs- without putting
down the other person or ignoring their legitimate wants or needs.
The following skills will assist you to
discuss issues without blame or aggression.
Use “I” statements
Statements that begin with “I”, “From my
perspective”, or “The way I see it…” make it clear that you are speaking
for yourself. “I” statements focus on your experience, thoughts,
feelings, reactions and decisions and not on any beliefs or judgments
you may have made about the other person.
Sentences that begin with “You”, such as
“you always” or “you are” make broad, inaccurate generalizations about
the other person and often lead to the other person feeling blamed and
If you are using “I” statements it
becomes difficult to make accusatory assumptions about the other
person’s intentions or behaviour. “I felt intimidated by your response”
has quite a different impact that “You are aggressive with me.”
Beware of “You” statements masquerading
as “I” statements. For example, “I feel that
you are always late for our meetings” begins with an “I” but is
really a “you” statement that over-generalizes about the other person’s
what your concerns are
To be assertive involves describing to
the other person, as specifically as you can, what your concern is.
Being specific is very important as it gives the other person direct
information regarding what it is about his or her views or behaviour
that concerns you. They do not need to guess or read between the lines.
Express clearly the
impact of the problem
Being assertive also involves being
willing to tell the other person about your emotional response and the
impact for you. Example:
“I feel frustrated and angry when
the list is not ready. I depend on it to get my work done.”
This provides the person with clear
information about the impact of the behaviour on you, without blame or
Specify your needs and
A final component of being assertive is
exploring and sharing with the other person what it is you need and want
in the working relationship. Being specific regarding your own needs and
wants is essential information to have on the table when you begin
looking at the future and at what options might work to resolve the