two women in conflict at work

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Arguments – in person or over email – are part of working life

Arguments are part of working life. We’ve all been there, when all hell breaks loose on what was a seemingly routine project. Both sides take up intransient positions. We can’t concentrate on what we’re doing and we seek validation by dragging in other colleagues.

Even worse are the keyboard warrior spats. Again, we’ve all done it. Just this side of aggressive, yet passive enough that we can use the absence of tone as a defence, should we need it. “Oh, that’s not what I meant” – said with the innocence of Little Red Riding Hood.

Some conflict is good and should be encouraged, however. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman, the guy who came up with the team stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, knew a team could never get beyond stage one if they were too nice to each other.

Equally, getting through stage two was also essential if they wanted to get anywhere. It’s about getting through the storming stage without creating floods so bad that the team cannot fix what was broken by the rain.

Conflict management tips are plentiful online. Yet, in my most recent LinkedIn poll, you voted in droves that of all the soft skills, conflict had the least amount of advice and help available.

Strange. I believe the reason is that the advice is generally along the lines of: take a breath, go for a walk, see it from the other person’s perspective. Really? I don’t want to. I’m right!

So, where does that leave us when the advice just doesn’t work? Reduce your conflicts by 20% and your escalations by 50%:

  • Avoid pointless spats. Pick your fights. Easier said than done, I get it. But many conflicts are just not worth it. (Reduces your conflicts by 10%.)
  • We all see the world differently. One of my favourite foods is epoisses cheese. My daughter hates it (“it smells funny,” she says) but loves avocado – which I call green soap. She and I accept our preferences. Do this at work too. (Reduces your conflicts by 10%.)
  • Be aware of your irritators because they are the cause of the escalation. Conflicts can be OK. Think epoisses and avocado. Yet, it is the escalation that hurts. We start using irritators with our words – like ‘OK’ as an infuriating response to a long speech. Or using a sarcastic tone. Irritators turn conflicts into wars. Be aware that you are using them and try to stop. As my old boss once said: “Play the football, not the player.” (Reduces escalations by 50%.)