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Workplace disputes are generally handled by avoiding the conflict. People hope the conflict will go away or cope with it by griping to friends or colleagues about it or complain to a supervisor. The following are principles that will help you address the problem you have with the person directly.

Pay attention to your emotions and how they influence you. Realize that emotions are part of the workplace and that negative emotions can fuel the conflict. Acknowledge your emotion and then determine its source – is it based on a bad experience or a past interaction that may be influencing the current situation? Is it based on something you have no control over? While you may not always be able to control your feelings generated by stress or other reasons, you should make every effort to control the disruptive emotions that your feelings may trigger. Request a “time out” if you become overwhelmed by emotions.

Consciously decide how to respond to a conflict situation. Most people remember how you respond to a situation rather than what happened. While you often do not have control of many situations, you can choose how to respond to others to help reduce work conflict and stress. By responding appropriately to a conflict situation, you take responsibility for your actions.

Give yourself time to prepare. You should address difficult issues after you have had time to organize your thoughts. Take the time to understand and be clear about what your real concern is. Ask yourself, “What is the underlying reason or the ‘why’ behind what I want.

Consider timing to help you listen. Do you have enough time to listen to another person’s point of view and then have time to discuss the issue? Listening is hard when you are upset. Do not listen only to hear what you expect the other person to say or for what will confirm your viewpoint. Listen with an open mind and paraphrase what the other person says to check and communicate that you understand.

Use “I” messages to express your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Talk from your perspective to clarify your issues, feelings, or opinions. “I feel frustrated when you come in late because I am not able to end my shift on time,” rather than “You are always late.” “I” messages place the responsibility on you and include three components: 1) your personal reaction/feeling, 2) a description of the situation/action, and 3) the impact/consequence from your perspective. “You” messages focus the blame on the other person and they are likely to elicit a negative or defensive response.

Frame the issue in terms of interests. Frame the discussion appropriately by clearly disclosing your interests so the other person can hear what you are saying. Then ask powerful questions to better define the problem for the two of you to address together. The best questions are open-ended questions rather than questions that require a “yes” or “no” reply or a short answer. Good questions include “Tell me more about ….” “How would that work in this situation?” Be careful starting a question with “why” as it may provide a defensive response.

Focus on what you can change – the future. Discussion about what happened in the past and providing examples may be necessary for understanding, but it is not to convince the other person about your rightness or to defend yourself. Focus on how you can both work more productively in the future.

Recognize that other viewpoints are possible and likely. Although you feel differently about the situation, the other person’s feelings are real and legitimate to them. Denying their existence is likely to escalate the situation. Remember, it is difficult to find solutions without first agreeing on the problem. If you do not understand the other person’s viewpoint, you run the risk of not solving the right problem which could make the conflict worse.

Identify ways to resolve the problem with the other person. By involving the other person in resolving the conflict, you gain his or her commitment and develop a stronger working relationship.

Source: CDR Associates, Conflict Resolution for Managers and Leaders, John Wiley & Sons and Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan, Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, John Wiley & Sons.

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