Having to manage Workplace Conflict is the Number 1 CEO concern! Most people lump disagreement together with negative energy. But they are not the same. Disagreement is simply a difference in points of view. But the negative energy that sometimes attends disagreements is the result of how people respond to that disagreement. The inclination to view disagreement and negative energy as one and the same often goes back to childhood; when we lacked the ability to effectively manage our emotions during conflicts with other people.

Unfortunately, this perception follows us into adulthood; we think that disagreeing will make us or the other person angry. And we try to avoid any form of disagreement – “we go along to get along”. The result of that is we repress our true feelings and become unhappy or find ways to sabotage the other person without appearing aggressive. Ultimately though, avoiding conflict does not remove it; it just transfers it to another space and time.

This happens a lot in the workplace and is a huge problem. Organizations by their very nature are designed to work efficiently by making the best use of the people available to them. Therefore, when team members are unable to function properly due to interpersonal conflicts, it can be very damaging. The impact may ripple beyond interactions between the two individuals into the ecosystem of which they are a part. The more influential the disagreeing parties, the greater the impact of the workspace conflict.

How can people who work together disagree without hampering the work? And how do you manage a colleague who does not know how to handle disagreements?

How To Disagree

  • Normalize the conflict: It is impossible to sanitize human interactions to the point of eliminating disagreements. Sometimes frictions allow us to test the waters and establish new boundaries. A relationship that has not survived conflict is fragile.
  • Listen Deeply: Many disagreements are actually not about the difference in opinions but a way for people to demand respect. By simply listening to what the other person has to say and doing your best to understand the situation from his/her perspective, you can deflate the situation.
  • Remain Factual; Stay focused on the issue at hand, regardless of how you feel about the other person. It is not about how you feel: it is about how to move things forward. Never disrespect a person over a disagreement at work.
  • Never Surrender Your Truth: Your opinion offers a different perspective that helps create a well-rounded solution to problems. That is what makes a diverse team so strong when facing obstacles: their collective intelligence. Therefore, you should never lose your voice in the bid to listen to the other person’s opinions.

How To Keep Interacting After a Disagreement

The manner in which you disagreed with the person will determine how you will relate to them in the future. If you observed the rules above, then it is unlikely that the other person will feel disrespected or hold negative feelings towards you. Instead, they may actually respect you for holding your ground and remaining calm during the disagreement. However, in the event that you followed these rules and the other person starts to act funny, what do you do?

  • Do Not Triangulate: Refuse to use a third party to communicate with that person when you can do it directly
  • Approach the dialogue by focusing on the facts first: Indeed, facts are the least controversial and the most persuasive (see crucial conversations book) when dealing with workplace conflict.
  • Be The Bigger Person: Some people hide their insecurities behind a big ego. Go over and break the ice. In all likelihood, they are just as uncomfortable as you and will appreciate the gesture.
  • Do Not Raise The Issue: Do not discuss the subject when you talk to them. Unless they do.
  • Ask For Their Help: If there are things they can collaborate with you on, ask them

Finally, if you are a leader, you can avoid this kind of situation from the outset by normalizing conflict among the people you lead; make them understand that frictions are expected and accepted. You are not a team of clones and this diversity, along with its difference of opinions and points of view, is a strength that must be leveraged. Do not make a big deal of them but leave people to resolve their issues. If it lingers, find ways of squashing it, such as, assigning the quarreling parties to one task. And remember to commend team members who know how to resolve issues quickly and without help.

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