Conflict is an inevitable, natural and healthy part of life. But what happens when an argument erupts at work? Do we have the skills to resolve it?
We've all seen it happen. A discussion over morning tea turns sour and workmates end up not talking to each other. Or something goes wrong between two people who work together and a row breaks out.
People end up sulking, not taking part in what the team is doing, or even yelling abuse at one another. If we do not have a way of resolving these sorts of conflicts it doesn't take long for our team or workplace to stop functioning properly.
Resolving these kinds of differences is a skill that we have to learn. Some people get the chance to do this at home or school, or by seeing how someone else does it. But many of us will not have the opportunity until something happens.
It's important for us to expect to have differences with our work mates. Some of these will be irritating and may lead to misunderstandings and a breakdown in communication. But it's important to remember that once we understand the other person's point of view our relationship with them will improve.
Negotiating our way through conflict is only going to work if we start with the assumption that there is no right or wrong point of view. There is simply a difference to be worked through. For instance, you might feel that a colleague is not pulling her weight. Or you can't trust another team member to carry out a task properly.
It's important, before you tackle the issue, to take time to think over the problem and clarify your position. Choose a time and place to discuss it where you won't be interrupted or distracted by other people. The discussion should be carried out in private, not in front of other colleagues.
It will help if you respect the other person's viewpoint as well as your own. Make sure you understand how you are feeling and express it appropriately. Then try listening to the other person. Make sure you understand what they are saying by asking questions and reflecting back to them what you think they said.
The other person is more likely to respond in a constructive way if we use positive behaviour. They are unlikely to hear our problem if it's surrounded by threats and angry language.
Try to keep your body language and tone of voice friendly and relaxed -- blaming the other person, using sarcasm or an aggressive tone of voice will only make the situation worse.
Instead, use statements that start with I -- they avoid blame. For instance, instead of saying aggressively, "You just don't pull your weight around here" try "I find it really difficult when you're late for work because I end up having to deal with your customers as well as mine."
Take turns to speak, stick to the main issue and listen without interrupting the other person. And remember to let the other person know that you're willing to listen to their point of view.
It's a good idea to practise these skills -- perhaps at home or with work mates who are interested in improving the way conflict is handled in your workplace. If you find it difficult to deal with conflict constructively, you might find it useful to talk to a Relationships Aotearoa counsellor.