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How to Avoid Workplace Conflict

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Almost everyone who has worked in an office has had to interact with that one co-worker or manager who just can’t help but make life difficult. Whether you’re asking for feedback or even just running into them in the break room, there always seems to be some sort of conflict -- even if its just over the coffee creamer. However, avoiding workplace conflict is actually quite simple. Here are a few ways to take a step back and take yourself out of the situation so your 9-to-5 can be much more peaceful -- and perhaps even enjoyable.

Almost everyone who has worked in an office has had to interact with that one co-worker or manager who just can’t help but make life difficult. Whether you’re asking for feedback or even just running into them in the break room, there always seems to be some sort of conflict — even if its just over the coffee creamer. However, avoiding workplace conflict is actually quite simple. Here are a few ways to take a step back and take yourself out of the situation so your 9-to-5 can be much more peaceful — and perhaps even enjoyable.

arm wrestling

(Photo Credit: nick@/Flickr)

According to Jeffrey Pfeffer at The Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network, the first step to avoiding workplace conflict is staying focused on your most important objectives. This essentially means focusing on your job — and not on what everyone else is doing.

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If you spend all of your time responding to everyone else’s actions, it will eat away at the energy you have to complete the tasks necessary to accomplish your goals. It also will probably bring negative attention your way, creating a vicious cycle of conflict that will become harder to escape as weeks and months drag on. If your boss picks up on the situation, you could eventually wind up out of a job. Your best bet? Keep your head down, and if attacked by a co-worker, avoid reciprocating.

Don’t Fight Over Things That Don’t Matter

Don’t waste your energy squabbling over that coffee creamer. Save it for the things that will actually advance your goals and produce results.

If extraneous tasks are taking up your time and causing conflict — such as fundraising, conferences, organizing team-building exercises, or anything that doesn’t actually pertain to your job (unless, of course, those things actually are your job) — it may be best to walk away from your responsibilities. Speak to your manager about reorganizing your time and priorities to improve your job performance.

“Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies Closer”

“This is tough advice to follow, because people naturally like pleasant interactions and seek to avoid discomfort,” writes Pfeffer. “Consequently, we tend to shun those with whom we’re having disagreements. Bad idea. You cannot know what others are thinking or doing if you don’t engage with them.”

While we’d like to hope that everyone is an adult at this point in our lives (and careers), many people approach office relationships with a high dose of social politics. In this case, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s on your side, even if it means stroking the egos of your conflict-loving co-workers.

Those who cause conflict are likely to spread the most rumors, so while you may want to be friendly, be careful what you say to these co-workers — the last thing you want to happen is the entire office to know what you did (or didn’t do) last weekend. 

Keep Your Emotions in Check

“Another common mistake made in workplace communications which leads to conflict is letting emotions drive decisions,” writes Mike Myatt at Forbes.

It’s not uncommon to see employees literally throw fits of rage when in the heat of the moment and draw, as Myatt calls it, a “regrettable line in the sand.” These people clearly are not thinking about their professional futures, which should be your first priority at work — not winning fights.

To avoid falling into this trap, be sure to approach each conversation and meeting with a clear head and let logic lead the way. If you don’t take things personally (which can be difficult), you’ll avoid allowing your emotions to create conflict with your coworkers, which will only be detrimental in the end. 

If, at the end of the day, there are people in your office causing so much conflict you just can’t possibly get any work done, consider going to HR. If that doesn’t help, it may be time to consider a friendlier office elsewhere.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you avoid conflict in the office? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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