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6 Ground Rules For Resolving A Workplace Dispute

When you put a group of people in the same room, two things inevitably happen eventually - discussion about Donald Trump, and some type of dispute (likely caused by the former). 

Workplace conflicts are commonplace, and while most disagreements are harmless and can be resolved with an impromptu office happy hour, they should be taken seriously and resolved swiftly. Disagreements can snowball quickly when the right measures aren’t taken, and can breakdown a team or professional relationship.

Read on as we go through the important steps to resolving any professional conflict, whether within your team or with a client.

1. Don’t Let Conflicts Begin

Before we even delve into resolving a conflict, it’s important to remind ourselves that not all disagreements have to lead to a dispute. Being proactive rather than reactive to a situation is often the determinant of whether or not it will go south. If you sense the other party is unhappy, begin by asking if that's indeed the case, and why if you’re not already aware. On the flip-side, voice your discontent early on instead of allowing the issue to eat at you until you breakdown.

2. Cool Down

We all make impulsive decisions, and when they're usually never good. In a dispute, our impulses tend to manifest in a defensive & argumentative attitude. When you sense tension building between you and a colleague or client, first take a step back and assess the situation. This could mean not responding to emails within an hour of receiving it. Our immediate emotions are very fleeting, which means our initial impulse tends to subside, and lead way to more rational thought. Remember that keeping your cool gives you tremendous advantage because you’re seen as more level-headed and respectable.

3. Practice Active Listening

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a colleague or client, active listening is a basic sign of respect and professionalism. Active listening is the practice of showing the other party that you are taking in and understanding what they’re saying through physical gestures such as nodding. This is not only a sign of respect, but helps you process what the other person has to say through their body language. Understand that anger is a secondary emotion that stems from fear or when emotions are hurt, and keep in mind when you’re listening to the person’s point-of-view. 

4. Art of the Debate

When it comes time to make your case, it’s important to keep the discussion calm and collected. This means framing your assertions as misunderstandings rather than fact, which allows the other party to be more receptive to what you have to say. For instance, rather than saying you failed to meet that deadline like we agreed, and didn't communicate there was a delay, try I interpreted from our discussion that you would be able to finish the project by Friday. Keeping the discussion open rather than argumentative helps to steer the conversation away from the blame game.

Another common mistake to resolving workplace disputes is not telling the full story. For instance, your position is that you cannot extend your contracted time on a project as the client requested, but your interest is to clear time so you can work on other projects. Rather than just sticking to your position, it can be helpful to also express your interest in the matter, which makes the client less defensive, and more receptive to any positive alternatives you may have.

5. Stick to the Issue

You never want a stray into pettiness. Keep your emails or communication with the other party as concise as possible, and only allow yourself to make one main point & stick to it. Similar to writing an essay, come up with a thesis for your point-of-view, and work to supplement that point. Bringing up unrelated matters will only drag the conflict out longer than is needed, and potentially lead to hurt feelings.

6. Don’t Look Back

We all want disputes to end fairly, especially in a business context, but the reality is that the world isn’t fair. Pick your battles, and let the small things go in the interest of resolving the primary point of conflict in a prompt manner. Always look to the future, and don’t revisit irrelevant issues from the past. If it helps, try to organise your thoughts beforehand like you would for any business-related matter.

7. It’s Never Too Late To Apologise

An apology is a cornerstone of resolving a conflict. While you should never apologise if you are not in the wrong, doing so when it's appropriate is also an important step for yourself in terms of resolving your feelings about the matter. A sincere apology is powerful, and absolutely essential for both parties to move on from the issue if it’s called for.

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