Office Feel Like a Boxing Match? Try Our Conflict Resolution Techniques

As an open workspace, we are very conscious at OpenSesame about the importance of conflict resolution in the workplace. In our office, there are no walls to whisper behind when frustrated by a colleague or offices to hide in when trying to avoid a difficult conversation. Our employees need to be able to address issues as soon as they arise, and as a result have become very skilled in conflict resolution techniques.

In this installment of the “Learn a New Skill in 2014” series, I’ll share some of the conflict resolutions skills that can help you both in the workplace and at home. Before getting to the solutions, however, we first need to understand some of the common reasons for conflict.

Common Roots of Conflict

Have you ever watched a movie and gotten the feeling of déjà vu—that the plot line was just a bit too familiar? Most movies are elaborations of just a few basic plots—love, loss, revenge, etc. In many ways, office conflicts are similar. The manifestations of the issues may be unique to a situation, but there are several common roots of conflict in the workplace. I’ve identified four common causes of conflict I see most often in the workplace:

  • Unclear or unmet expectations (e.g. lack of understanding around job or project roles)
  • Disparate personalities or work habits (e.g. quick decisions vs. researching options)
  • Competition for resources (e.g. lack of budget can cause cutbacks in certain areas)
  • Differences in status (e.g. unequal or perception of unequal treatment due to titles)
  • Personal concerns (e.g. going through a divorce, didn’t get enough sleep)

Taking the time to examine the root of your frustration can help you determine the best course of action to resolve the conflict. To start, explore what triggered the conflict. Was it the topic of discussion or the way the other person was communicating with you? Does being at home make you less or more frustrated about the issue? When talking about the conflict with friends, do you focus on the problem or the person? Asking these questions can help narrow down the root of the conflict and what ultimately needs to be addressed.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

The two greatest enemies to conflict resolutions are ignoring the issue and resorting to some type of violence (yelling, sabotage, or even physical). Sticking your head in the sand or resorting to violence often results in more stress which can exacerbate the original issue until it can no longer be resolved easily. The first step for successful conflict resolution in the workplace is to create an open environment where discussion and mediation are encouraged. Employees will then be more likely to use appropriate conflict resolution techniques.

When having a dialogue about the conflict, use the following tips:

  • Use “I” statements and avoid placing blame on others. This is not a time for interpretations and assumptions. Statements like “You always...” will only put the individual on the defensive.
  • Ask the person to clarify the intent of their comment or action and whether they understood you. Explore what the other person would ideally like to be the result of the conflict.
  • State both what you do and do not want in the outcome. This ensures the other party understands your needs clearly.

If the person is upset no matter what techniques you use, it may be a personality issue. In this case, utilizing a third party as a mediator can have good results. If you took our advice on the first step, then your employees will be comfortable inviting a mediator in to address some of these more difficult issues.

Ultimately, successful conflict resolution in the workplace comes down to clear, professional communication based on a true understanding of the root of the problem. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find conflict may even turn out to be a good thing in the end.

This post is the fourth in our "Learn a New Skill in 2014" series. Stay tuned to our blog.

Image Credit: USMC Archives via Flickr