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How To Manage Workplace Conflict

Ramon Greenwood -- There are few things more aggravating and time-wasting than workplace conflict. Here are ways to deal with conflict that can address the core problems while deflating tension.

We’ve all had a boss that pushed our buttons or a coworker or two that made us go bananas, but except in dire situations most of us refrain from letting our workplace conflicts escalate into full blown crises. Which is a good thing, because when people expose too many of their emotions at work, especially those involving anger and frustration, they may need some serious reputation management in order to repair the damage. So it’s good to be able brush petty problems off your shoulders. Except sometimes in burying our opinions and issues we just let them grow in strength, and in the process we risk a major blowout. There are ways to deal with conflict that can address the core problems while deflating tension:

Don’t make it personal. No matter what the issue, as soon as you begin making personalized accusations -- such as “you’re a slob” or “it’s your fault” -- the situation will be hard to repair. The best way to approach a problem is to view it as a mysterious anomaly that you’re trying to get to the root of by enlisting the help of others.

Identify with the problem. If the copier keeps getting broken because the guy in the next cubicle bangs it with his fist, your best bet at resolving the issue is to approach him rationally. Instead of saying, “stop smashing the copier with your hand, you fool!” you’re better off saying, “I’ve noticed that when the copier lags for a moment you hit it. I hate that thing too, trust me, but check out this blog I read about how things don’t work as well when they’re damaged.” Obviously, you’d probably want to scale back the sarcasm at the tail end, but you get the point.

Smile, listen, and be concise. A smile goes a long way toward breaking tension. Without it, a colleague is more likely to feel attacked. Also, after you’ve spoken listen to what they say in response. If a person feels like they’re on the wrong side of an endless, accusatory monologue, they’ll likely get angry. Wouldn’t you? Keep the grievance short, concise, and to the point. And don’t lump in other things that have been bothering you. This isn’t therapy.

There are few things more aggravating and time-wasting than workplace conflict. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but usually if you adhere to basic social skills you can sooth an issue before it becomes a major point of office ire. This is a good management skill and if your clueless boss lacks it, perhaps you’ll end up replacing him anyway. Just a thought.

To get Ramon Greenwood’s common sense advice on how to achieve your career goals go to Common Sense At Work Blog. His recently published ebook, How To Get The Pay Raise You've Earned, available for download from, sets out comprehensive guidelines that will help you work your way through the challenge of negotiating the sensitive issues of why you deserve a raise. It also provides tips for how to avoid shooting yourself in the foot when you get an answer. Case histories of how not to campaign for a raise are included. Ramon has written this timely ebook based on a wide-ranging career, including serving as senior vice president of American Express; a professional of a number of companies; entrepreneur; author; and career coach. He is currently The Career Coach at Common Sense At Work. For further information, contact Ramon Greenwood at

© 2012 Ramon Greenwood

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