Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. Regardless of the industry, wherever humans are working and collaborating together, conflict is bound to occur. It is not a matter of if it will occur, but rather when it will occur. Due to this inevitability, it’s important that you as an educator understand how to handle conflict in the workplace confidently and effectively.
First, lets define what positive and negative conflict look like. Positive conflict is diplomatic, focuses on the subject at hand, and is both reasoned and logical. By diplomatic I mean that both sides recognize eachother’s point of view and stake in the problem, and are willing to make compromises to solve the conflict. On the contrary, negative conflict relies on personal attacks, features poor choice of words and tone, and is selfish by nature seeking to settle old scores rather than create solutions.
If conflict is inevitable, we might as well focus on having constructive positive conflict. But how? My experience and graduate education in Human Resource Development have lead me to embrace the following steps to engaging in constructive positive conflict:
- Know your point of view, and have actual reasons as to why you feel that way. To often I have seen employees who get into workplace conflict with their co-workers “just because.” They may be holding a grudge against their co-worker, or not like the way they teach, or for a different dubious reason, but lack a factual basis for their stance. There is always a reason for conflict, but too often individuals fail to articulate it effectively. Be prepared with facts as to why you feel a certain way, feelings won’t be enough.
- Take a few deep breaths prior to the conflict confrontation. Conflicts are stressful. Most people don’t enjoy confrontation, it makes them uncomfortable and can cause them to have a plethora of feelings ranging from shyness to anger. Taking a few deep breaths will help to calm you prior to the conflict confrontation. Entering the conflict resolution process in a calmer demeanor will help you remain logical and will make you less susceptible to falling victim to blindly embracing your feelings.
- As you engage in the conflict process, remember to focus on solutions to the problem(s) at hand, rather than settling past disputes. It is easy during a conflict to bring up past disputes and get sidetracked by trying to settle old scores. Focus on being diplomatic and constructing actual solutions to your problems. Ask your counterpart what they would be willing to accept, and not be willing to accept, and then go from there.
- Focus on being empathetic. As difficult as it is in the moment of conflict confrontation, try to be empathetic. In other words, put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes. Ask yourself, “would I feel the way he or she feels if I were my counterpart?”
- End the conflict confrontation with an agreed upon solution and a follow up plan. The conflict resolution process does not end with just agreeing upon a solution. Verbally set up a follow up plan. This plan should address how the solution should play out, any possible contingencies, and what should happen if a situation like this arises again to possibly avoid feelings on both sides getting hurt.
The steps conveyed may seem easy enough, but in practice they can be difficult to implement. They take practice, and require that you have a positive attitude about the conflict resolution process. My advice is that next time you are going to engage in a workplace conflict, that you give these steps a try. They are not universal to all conflicts, but can be applied to the vast majority. Make your next conflict a constructive one!