Handling disputes in the workplace
Confrontation at work can be scary but facing up to a dispute sooner rather than later will help in terms of stemming anxiety.
An unfortunate fact of a working environment is that disputes are not entirely uncommon. When you work in a small space with the same people, eight hours a day, five days a week, it is easy to become agitated about someone’s habits, and all too often a trivial thing is blown out of proportion. Of course, no one wants a dispute at work; it saps productivity, you wonder if things are being said about you behind your back, and if you’re uncomfortable with confrontation you will be wasting a lot of energy worrying about not bumping into the person you’re in a dispute with. None of that is helpful, nor will it win you any favours with co-workers or your boss.
To overcome a dispute at work, remember that conflicts are inevitable. It does not reflect badly on you that you are embroiled in one, and in fact it tends to show that you care enough to have a strong opinion. That’s a good quality, but you need to also help resolve peace. You need to deal with the conflict sooner rather than later – although it’s tempting to wait for it to blow over by itself. The fact is most conflicts get worse over time, and even if it does blow over, it’s likely because the other person just wants to get on with life, not because you’re forgiven. That means that the resentment and ill feelings, which may be completely unjustified and easily persuaded away, are still bubbling under the surface. As scary as confrontation may be, it is much quicker and easier than letting it all fester away and get increasingly unpleasant. Being the one to resolve the conflict will also make you look more professional and mature.
One of the best ways of handling disputes is to try to stop them occurring in the first place. This doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you, but many disputes arise from a simple misunderstanding. So if you don’t understand what someone said, think you may have misinterpreted or you can’t comprehend their actions, simply ask them for clarification. It could be that you were taking it wrong, rather than them doing or saying something they shouldn’t.
If they did do something they shouldn’t, it may be the case that they did not give it a second thought and are mortified to learn it was taken offensively. Either scenario will stop a dispute dead in its tracks, without confrontation or any conflict having to begin. There is one caveat though: don’t go in with all guns blazing and demand an explanation. Instead, calmly ask what they meant or if they can let you know why they did something; take it from the angle that you don’t understand, rather than they did something wrong, as that way they are more likely to be happy to explain rather than getting defensive about their actions.
Never be too proud to admit when you did something wrong and apologise for your part of it. A dispute takes two people and chances are you could have handled it better, so say sorry for that. Even if you had a minor role in it, apologising can calm the other party down enough to also apologise, ultimately ending in a resolution being found. If you were part of the dispute and won’t admit it, it’s unlikely the other person will either.
All that being said, there are those times when disputes have gone on for so long that neither party can remember why it started – it’s just the norm. In those instances one of the best things to do is get mediation. There are organisations, like Acas, to help, or someone within the company can take charge.