5 Smart Strategies for Cooling Off in a Conflict at the Office

My wife, Mary, and I have been married for 47 years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce. Murder, yes, but divorce, never.
— Jack Benny, Comedian (1894-1974)

As with any marriage or long-term relationship, conflict with a coworker, supervisor, or manager is inevitable. Managed intelligently, conflict can turn from a hair-raising dilemma to an important building block toward progress and innovation. Conflict management experts have several suggestions to help productively disengage unavoidable office battles.

Here are five “don’t do’s” of office conflict:

  1. Don’t get in a power struggle 

    Authority increases when you empower others instead of getting into power struggles. Give away power, don’t hoard it. They’ll feel in control of the issues or events at hand, and you won’t have to go medieval on anyone.

  1. Don’t detach from the disagreement 

    Ignoring a problem at the office can be like turning a blind eye to the leak in your basement. It may seem insignificant now, but in a week or two you may find yourself wading through a torrential mess. Tackling problems at their outset is a way to monitor and control conflict. Without demonstrable concern, there is no chance of discovering the potential opportunities embedded in many conflicts.

  1. Don’t let conflict affect your agenda 

    With a busy schedule full of time-sensitive tasks, the slightest detour can wreak havoc on your project and time management. Pay close attention to how much time you spend on managing skirmishes. Arrive at each encounter with the knowledge of the goals and direction in which you’d like to move. Identify and manage consistent offenders or woe-is-me employees who monopolize your time.

  1. Don’t make the other party better … or worse … than they really are 

    Don’t bring your paranoia to the negotiating table. The higher the intensity of the conflict, the more we tend to assume worst-case scenarios and lose the perspective required to solve complex problems. Remember that people are rarely as benevolent as they might seem. Furthermore, they’re usually not nearly as cold-hearted and calculated as we sometimes assume.

  1. Don’t be fooled by projection

    You probably remember this tidbit from Psych 101: Projecting your emotions and insecurities onto other people can function as a spiritual release. Now translate that lesson to the workplace. The accusation that Person X slings across the boardroom table at Person Y may be nothing more than an unconscious attempt to veil his or her own flawed approach. You’ll be more effective during conflict if you keep this trusty psychological truism in mind.

It’s easy to shrink like a violet from office conflict. By avoiding emotional pitfalls, you’ll become a steady, calm and assertive workplace warrior in no time.

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