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How to Defuse Conflicts at Work


When was the last time you quarreled with someone at the office? How did it affect your job and performance? Work conflicts are a common scenario in offices today. In fact, recent research shows that “60-80% of all difficulties in organisations stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employee’s skill or motivation”.

Conflicts that don’t get resolved destroy good working relationships and waste valuable time in the workplace. So whether you’re part of the team or a concerned manager, learning to work out conflicts is important for the overall success of the company.

Here are some important tips on how to cleverly defuse conflicts at work before they get out of hand.

Stay calm

If you feel like yelling at someone after a heated argument, stop and pause. Take a minute to analyse the situation. Don't assert your voice during negotiation. Talk in a calm and respectful manner regardless of how the person talks to you. Discuss with the intention of solving the problem, not bringing up dirt on the other person. Rash behaviours are a product of rage and fear. Staying calm by pausing to think helps avoid sudden outbursts. Fighting anger with anger will only make the situation twice as bad.

Conflicts are inevitable, look for warning signs.

When we’re working hard with a team of brilliant people with different opinions and ideas, conflicts are bound to happen. While you can’t stop conflicts, you can certainly defuse them while they’re still brewing. Signs of conflict include behaviours such as discontentment, negativity towards work, passive-aggression, and noticeable rudeness. Employees who are exhibiting such behaviors must not be ignored. As a manager, you have to step in right away to stop the problem before it grows into something major. As a junior, you should find someone more senior that you can trust and raise the issue with them.

Communicate properly

The best way to solve conflicts is to talk about them with the parties involved – the earlier, the better. Address the persons directly, not through email or Skype. Ignoring small problems at work can be your biggest mistake. Small yet unsolved disputes can escalate to frustrating conflicts that can destroy your office’s harmony. Through proper communication, you can eliminate negative feelings and turn them into positive and productive outcomes.

Learn to compromise

Sometimes you have to compromise for the sake of avoiding tension. Being stubborn about things won't do you or the team any good. Little compromises go a long way when you want to improve work relationships. Giving some ground on small issues can help you fight the larger, more serious ones.

Find common ground

If you’re the manager, how do you deal with two employees who have an extreme dislike for one another? The answer: find some common ground. When in a heated discussion, discover what do they agree with? Which of their statements is both true and helpful? Those are the things you need to bring up in order to defuse the conflict.

Listen to both sides

Don’t prematurely assume or take sides before you’ve listened to the persons involved.  Understand each person’s viewpoint and find out how you can resolve the issue that will benefit both parties. It’s important that the solution will be to everyone’s satisfaction – otherwise, you’ll create more hard feelings and negative tension in the office.

Final thoughts

Although disputes within your team can sometimes lead to a healthy and productive discourse, not all conflicts should be tolerated. As a manager or employee, it’s important to know what to do when conflicts arise. Companies and teams that work harmoniously together are able to achieve fruitful success in the long run.

Naomi Chan

Career Coach and professional career hacker at Team Vanna

6 min read

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