Resolving Conflict in the Workplace - Veterans Employment Toolkit
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Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict occurs in all areas of life, including the workplace. It’s normal to disagree with your coworkers sometimes. After all, you’re going to have different ideas from time to time.  The way you handle the conflict can help you in your career. When you work through conflicts, you can identify common goals and end up with closer working relationships. In the end, you may find you’re more productive and happier in your workplace.

Dealing with conflict can help you have:

  • Improved communication and listening skills
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Enhanced self-control and patience
  • Stronger relationships

Here are some steps you can take if you have a conflict with a coworker:

Take a step back

Take a few minutes to think about what’s bothering you. Is it about the other person? Is there something else going on? Once you understand your feelings, it’s easier to work through the conflict.

Stay calm

Be sure to stay focused on the objective rather than the emotional aspects of the conflict. Remain calm and avoid problems that may escalate the conflict such as arguing, name calling, or cursing. Notice your tone of voice, how loud you are, and your body language. To learn more about assertive communication, read our “Learn to Communicate Assertively at Work” (Handout).

Do your homework

Find out if your workplace has policies or procedures for how to deal with conflict in the workplace or for having meetings to resolve conflict. You may want to check in with your manager or supervisor for advice on how to proceed. Your workplace may even have resources to help you address conflict effectively, should you need it.

Plan a meeting

Having a set time to work through issues can help you meet your goals. Decide on a time and place to privately discuss your concerns. How much time is available for the meeting? What will you do if you cannot finish the meeting on time? Ask your supervisor to be present and mediate if needed.

Identify common goals and obstacles

Think about the possible outcomes if the conflict is resolved. Which one do you most want? Each person should write out what he or she wants to accomplish in the meeting and rank order his or her objectives. Decide whether you want to exchange this list ahead of time or at the start of the meeting.

Set some ground rules

You may need to set some rules for your meeting. Your rules can include being respectful, taking turns when speaking, not talking over the other person, and taking a break if needed.

During the meeting

You want your meeting to run smoothly. Depending on how challenging the conflict is, you may need to:

  • Review the goals of the meeting. Clarify common ground. First see where you agree as a starting point. Then, identify potential obstacles and solutions as a part of your problem solving strategy.
  • Make sure that you give fair amounts of time to each person to state their case.  Be sure to respect each other by not interrupting.
  • Put your concerns in the form of an “I-statement.” For example: “I have trouble doing my job well with loud music playing in the background.” or “Thanks for your suggestion, but it would work better for me if I could work on this task by myself for now.”
  • Try to understand where the other the person is coming from, just as you would want them to understand your perspective. Use reflective statements that let the other person know you have heard them (e.g., I hear you saying that it’s difficult for you to concentrate with loud music.). Both parties take turns speaking andat the end of this process, you both should understand at least a little more about each other’s perspective.

Brainstorm solutions and decide which to try

Resolving conflicts is not about winning or losing. So stay focused on “the problem” instead of the person. Write down possible solutions and decide which ones would best resolve the problem for you as well as other coworkers. Write down every solution you can think of. Ask your coworker to help you think of other possible solutions.

Select and plan the solution

Clarify how you’re going to put your idea into action. It’s sometimes helpful to write this down to avoid any misunderstanding. Decide how you will know if your plan is working.

Evaluate each solution with these questions:

  • What will happen if we do this?
  • Will we both get what we need?
  • Who else might be affected by our solution(s)?

Afterwards, talk about how your plan is working. If the first solution doesn’t work, choose another solution from your list to carry out.

What to do if the issue cannot be resolved

If you are unable to resolve the issue together, you might choose to meet with your supervisor to review concerns and get direction.

You can keep difficult discussions positive and constructive by following this guide. The earlier you address a problem, the better the chance of resolving it. Conflict is normal. If you stay calm and focused, you might find yourself having additional success at both work and home.

For Managers and Supervisors

If you are a manager or supervisor, you may be interested in reading our “Managing Conflict” (Handout).

Getting Help from an EAP Provider

If you are meeting with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider, you may want to discuss how to effectively resolve conflict with him or her, practice having discussions about conflict, and ask for feedback.

These materials were developed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in collaboration with Aetna Inc. (“Aetna”). These materials may be reproduced for use within your practice. These materials do not constitute medical diagnostic or treatment advice and are intended only to supplement information generally available to health care professionals with more specific information about the unique attributes, needs and services available to Veterans. Health care providers (other than VA employees) using these materials are solely responsible for the health care they deliver to patients and shall not be deemed agents or employees of the VA or Aetna. These materials are not intended for use by the general public.