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Co-Worker Conflict?  7 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations

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J.Adderton has 26 years experience as a BSN, MSN .

7 Followers; 96 Articles; 30,916 Profile Views; 345 Posts

How best can we approach a co-worker conflict?

You have, or will, experience co-worker conflict at some point in your career.  While some may be severe, most of our conflicts can be resolved without needing management to step in.  All conflict, regardless of how big or small, can lead to anger, resentment and even lowered morale. Read on to learn tips to increase your confidence in addressing conflict directly with co-workers.

Co-Worker Conflict?  7 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations

Co-worker conflict can be uncomfortable, casting a dark cloud over the workday.  Anyone can have a bad day and it is often played out with irritability, raw emotions and thin patience.  But, if a co-worker conflict is affecting your work or causing discontent, it is time to take positive action.  Your first reaction may be to avoid the issue or escalate it up to your boss. But, with these 6 tips, you can begin to address the situation yourself.  Approaching a co-work may feel awkward at first, but your confidence will build with practice and experience.

Tip One:  Take time to cool down and reflect.

Engaging in conflict resolution with a co-worker when you are angry is the easiest way to shut down open communication.  Anger takes away our ability to think and problem solve rationally. Walk away from the situation and take the time needed to cool off and reflect.

Tip Two:  Think about the problem. 

The old saying “there are two sides to every story” is true when you begin to reflect on both your own and your co-workers perspective of the problem.

To explore your perspective, ask yourself:

  • What is the conflict really about?
  • What is it about the issue that has me upset and angry?
  • Do I have underlying concerns, wants or needs that are not being met?
  • What is needed to improve on my circumstances?

To explore the other person's perspective, ask yourself:

  • How might they see the situation?
  • How might they view my actions?
  • What needs might she/he have?
  • What is important to the other person?

Keep in mind that assumptions, misperceptions and unmet expectations is at the core of most conflict.

Tip Three:  Plan out the conversation.

One strategy for not allowing your emotions to drive the interaction is to plan out the conversation.  Start by removing the relationship you have with your co-worker from the equation and focus on the facts to better deliver the message.  Practice describing the problem in a non-blaming and non-personalized way. Be sure to address the problem as mutual (our problem) and use “I” statements to communicate your perspective.

Tip Four:  Don’t gossip or vent to others.

It is tempting to talk to other co-workers and seek validation that you are in the “right”.  However, the person you are in conflict with may hear you are talking “behind their back” and escalate the situation.  It is best to keep the matter confidential.

Tip Four:  Choose an appropriate time.

Find a time (sooner than later) that is convenient to both you and your co-worker.   Also, it is important to have the discussion in a private place with little to no interruptions.

Tip Five:  Communicate effectively.

When you approach your co-worker, make your intentions clear, assuring them you want a good working relationship.  Your colleague may initially become defensive and possibly assume you want to continue the disagreement. It helps to describe the problem without blaming, put downs and over-generalizations.  Here are a few other tips for effective communication:

  • If you feel you may have had a role in creating the conflict or regret how you handled the situation, sincerely apologize upfront.
  • Ask the person to tell you how they see the situation before you share your grievances.  This will help lower their defensiveness.
  • Be ready to listen attentively to the other person’s concerns.  You may not realize how you are contributing to the problem or how your behavior is being perceived.

Having a face-to-face discussion with effective communication supports conflict resolution in the following ways:

  • Gives the other person a chance to explain themselves
  • Gives the other person a chance to apologize (when appropriate)
  • Gives both of you an opportunity to understand how each views the working relationship
  • Allows negotiation of ways to better work together

Tip Six:  Work toward a solution together

Avoid focusing on who is right and who is wrong.  Instead, work with the other person to identify possible solutions that work best, meeting the needs and wants of you both.  This may take more than one meeting, so keep working at it.  It is worth the effort in the long run.

Tip Seven:  Ask for help when needed.

Sometimes co-workers are unable to resolve workplace conflict between themselves and the working relationship takes a toll on productivity.  In this case, you will need to identify the proper channel, such as the supervisor, to further discuss the problem and move forward.

Conclusion

Working together to solve conflicts within the workplace could lead to a closer and more effective working relationship.  Down the road, when you or your co-worker have a bad day, you will find yourselves committed to a better way of handling any conflict situations that arise.

Let us hear from you!  What do’s or don’ts do you have to share with readers?


Want to learn more?  Check out these additional resources

Seven Steps for Mending Relationships With Colleagues

How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

J. Adderton MSN has over 20 years experience in clinical leadership, staff development, project management and nursing education.

7 Followers; 96 Articles; 30,916 Profile Views; 345 Posts

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94 Posts; 1,080 Profile Views

Excellent article and sharing feelings with a coworker you’re at odds with can be difficult.  You’ve provided a fine lesson on assertive communication.

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25 Posts; 1,088 Profile Views

This is a great article with many helpful tips. I would also add that you can say, "When you said/did X, it made me feel Y. Was that your intention?" then it makes you vulnerable instead of making the other person feel you're attacking them.

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