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6 Steps for Dealing with Workplace Confrontations

Can’t stand that new hire who made a harmless yet insulting comment about you, which put him on your blacklist forever? While you may think of your feelings as a novel experience, workplace conflicts have existed since the beginning of…well, work!

Not only are workplace conflicts unavoidable by all measure, it’s important to understand that they’re simply natural byproducts of human interaction. Rather than fearing confrontation, it’s best to know how to best address and resolve conflict, and use it as a lesson for the company to grow.

Keep reading our suggested steps for tackling any workplace conflict (even if it involves the new hire):


1. JUST ME AND YOU

When you begin to feel that conflict is brewing between you and a colleague, make a conscious effort to not involve anyone else - especially your boss. Aside from the confusion that’s going to arise from various third party opinions, since the only ones that matter are your’s and your colleague’s, the main issue with involving other people is that everyone has their own agenda. For instance, your boss’s agenda would be to resolve the conflict in the fastest way possible so everyone can back to work, rather than to take the time to address the concerns of both parties.

2. PICK YOUR BATTLES

It’s understandable that we try to avoid conflict at any cost because it’s not only unpleasant, but made worse by the fact that you have to see the person everyday. While conflict prevention is important, such as knowing when you’re crossing the line, but the best method is to just deal with the issue as early as possible rather than letting it fester. Conflicts will never resolve themselves, so don’t bother putting up with that bully for another week because he or she will continue to be one until you step in.

At the same time, taking small disagreements too seriously can also impede on forming positive relationships with your colleagues. For example, if you’re being confrontational about a minor issue, it’s likely that others won’t take it seriously enough to look at it from a more objective point of view. Just remember: if you do decide that confrontation is inevitable, remember that it should be all or nothing. This means you must commit to the preparation, conversation, and follow through to resolve the issue. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time, and likely creating even deeper divisions.

3. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Alright, so you made the decision to confront the person. What now? Avoid turning into your discussion into a circus by enacting the very simple principle of empathy. It’s easy for things to escalate quickly in these situations because we go in upset about having to have the difficult conversation the didn’t want to have. The best approach is to clearly state your point-of-view, and allow the person to share their’s without interruptions. Being calm, cool, and collected throughout will pressure the other person to do the same.

Whether you’re a naturally empathetic person or not, you won’t be able to succeed in any role if you don’t get into the habit of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Focus on behaviours and events, rather than personality. Also, be open to the fact that you might be at fault. Most of us go in with the attitude that we’re the one in the right, there is no clear right or wrong in almost all disagreements, so whatever the outcome, just accept it and move on.

4. SET BOUNDARIES

So what if the other person is hostile? Well, that’s when you go to a manager or HR to explain the situation. Everyone has their boundaries, and they must be set before any confrontation as to keep it from getting out of hand. Conversely, it’s also crucial for every conflict to have takeaways and action points. If the new hire hit a nerve with that comment, make it clear that it’s not something you can accept going forward. The action point on his part is to respect you and avoid making such comments. When appropriate, it’s also helpful to set aside a time a few days or weeks after the conflict to check in to see how both parties are doing.

5. SEE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GROW

As discussed previously, conflict is part of human nature, and should be seen as events that can help us grow into better people, co-workers, or managers. Every divergent opinion is a learning opportunity, as it often brings a long-standing problem within the company to light. Perhaps HR needs to implement better management practices, or the team is lacking in morale. Whatever the issue, use conflict as a catalyst for better leadership, opportunities for positive change, and more cohesiveness within the team.

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