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How to prevent conflict in the workplace

caryncridlandResolving workplace conflict can be easier than you think. Most people, however, prefer to avoid it or end up making it worse by not using a structured and professional method.
Having run a workplace mediation consultancy over the past seven years, I often see the same themes reoccurring across all industries, and within all types of businesses, regardless of the people involved.

Here are some of my top tips for resolving workplace conflict:

1. Face the issues

Let’s face it; many of us will go out of our way to avoid interpersonal issues and conflicts as much as possible. In my experience, the majority of workplace disputes begin with relatively small or seemingly insignificant issues – such as a failure to say hello or a miscommunication about what needs to be done or who is responsible for what.

The problem lies in not addressing these issues early on and they end up building up over time. A simple failure to say hello can, after a few months or years, turn into a bullying claim. All it would have taken was a quick conversation, ‘did you see me this morning in the corridor? I wanted to say hello’.

If you are unclear or uncertain about a colleague’s behaviour, just ask before making up your own mind and acting in accordance with your own assumptions.

2. Plan your conversations

Most of us prepare for meetings or presentations at work. We plan what we are going to stay, set goals, develop a structure and ensure we are familiar with the content. We are content experts. We know our role and the technical side of our business.

However, we often do not spend much time planning important conversations. How long do you spend planning conversations with your colleagues or staff? Investing in some preparation time, particularly when issues have arisen can really help to ensure that the goal you have for the conversation is achieved and the issues are resolved.

Focus on your goals for the communication. What are your goals for the communication? How are you going to communicate your goals?

3. Approach others with a curious mind

When issues in the workplace do arise, it is easy and natural for us to jump to conclusions about what occurred, why it occurred, and even decide who is to ‘blame’.

When we do this however, other people feel it, hear it in the tone of our voice, and notice the language we use when we approach them. This can often leads to people feeling judged or criticised.

Approaching with a curious mind, enquiring about what happened, people will respond differently. Let your colleague or co-worker know that it is important for you to hear their view of events. In doing this, they will be far more likely to open up and give you their account of what occurred.

Curiosity and openness helps to build relationships. When we are curious and open to others’ views, people feel heard, and are more likely to engage.

4. Stop and listen

Active listening can prevent most workplace conflict. Many people involved in conflict simply feel unheard. When you are speaking to others at work, take the time to stop and really listen to what they have to say.  It is very rare these days for us to stop and solely focus on one person or thing and when you do, people will really appreciate it.

Listen to your colleague’s tone of voice, what they are saying, and what they are not saying. Taking the time to really listen to others is a sign of empathy and demonstrates that the other person is important to you.

5. Get to the heart of what really matters

Within working environments, we can often forget that colleagues are people with feelings and needs – just like our friends, family, and partners. Asking people how they are feeling, what they need, and what is really important to them can help to resolve issues quickly and easily. Most people like to feel cared about. The saying ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’ sums this up perfectly.

People are more the same than different. Focusing on their feelings and needs is a great way to diffuse any workplace conflict or issues. Once you get to the heart of what matters, the details often fall into place.

6. Focus attention on what people want

Over time we get pretty good at knowing what we don’t want. What we aren’t so good at sometimes is getting clear on what we do want.

Ask yourself or others what would you like to see happen? Answering this question can go a long way to resolving issues. Often people easily see, and agree on a resolution once they know what they want.

7. Be positive

Being positive goes a long way to resolving workplace issues. When we focus on the negatives, we often create the situation we fear – both consciously and unconsciously.
Simply staying positive and doing what it takes to resolve the issues can help to prevent workplace conflict.

A positive approach helps you to think more creatively and build relationships, both of which can prevent or minimise workplace conflict.

Caryn Cridland is the Founder of Mindful Mediation.

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