Resolving Conflict at Work: 11 Dos and Don'ts

Conflict at work is common and can be exacerbated if the conflict is not handled quickly. There are a few Dos and Don'ts for conflict resolution that can make life in the workplace much better.

Dos

  • Do try and understand the nature of the conflict. It does take two people to have a conflict. A lot of conflicts are based on misinterpretation of others. Some parties in conflicts are themselves misinformed. It's also important to pin down your own role in the conflict. Check your own position, to make sure you're not at fault.
  • Do explore avenues of defusing the conflict. Not all ways of settling a dispute are necessarily going to be acceptable to either side, but there's always ways of reducing conflict, and in many cases eliminating it altogether.
  • Do be reasonable and open to solutions. Many conflicts persist simply because one party refuses to budge on an issue. Even if there's a good reason for taking this position, it can put you in the wrong, because you're seen as not trying to settle the matter.
  • Do cooperate with any management or third party efforts to resolve conflict.  Another classic case of creating further problems is a perception of being uncooperative. It tends to reduce efforts to resolve conflicts.
  • Do suggest solutions yourself. It shows you're making an effort, and if you've assessed the conflict correctly, you may be able to solve the problem.
  • Do listen to anyone who's being negatively affected by a conflict. This is the workplace equivalent of "collateral damage" and those people do have legitimate grounds for complaint if they're being adversely affected. No manager will tolerate an office war, and your position is likely to be seriously compromised.

Don'ts

  • Don't start a conflict. Whatever the situation, do not be the aggressor or initiator of the conflict. The person who starts a conflict is likely to be held responsible for the problems, regardless of claims of provocation or other reasons.
  • Don't escalate a conflict. Any escalation of a conflict can result in serious trouble. People overreact, they may respond in the heat of the moment in a way which is disproportionate. You may also overreact. Walk away, get out of the danger zone. 
  • Don't be confrontational. The surest way to turn a minor conflict into a major conflict is direct confrontation. It can guarantee escalation and continuation of the problem, or lead to a serious situation in which there's no possibility of resolution.
  • Don't be afraid to take the matter to management. If you do this, it's a big step, but it can be the right one. It's also a lot better than having management come to you demanding an explanation. When explaining your position in the situation, keep it simple, and don't make accusations without due cause.
  • Don't be afraid to stand up for your legitimate rights. Some conflicts are based on denial of rights, and the resolution is restoration of those rights. Failure to do so will aggravate the situation.