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Sharpen your conflict resolution skills at work

This past year and a half has pushed people to the breaking point and beyond, igniting conflict in every sphere of our lives. Knowing that conflict is inevitable and all too often outside of our control, it’s important to develop our own personal frameworks for responding to conflict in a healthy, respectful way. Our response to conflict is the only thing we can control after all.

In my career, I’ve experienced my fair share of conflict. Time and again, I come back to some core principles that have served me well. It is my hope that the following will help you confidently take on conflict with grace and become a peacemaker in the virtual office and beyond.

Tip 1: Never let things fester

If you feel upset or that something is out of line, address it immediately. You are doing yourself and the offending party a disservice if you don’t deal with it promptly. I once heard, “Bitterness is a poison you make for your enemy but drink yourself.” Don’t let bitterness steal your joy.

Tip 2: Assume positive intent

Approach conflict with humility. You don’t know what others are going through and you should always assume people have your best interest in mind. Using the phrase, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to come across this way, but this is how it made me feel…” is a great place to start difficult conversations.

Tip 3: Never attack another person’s character

Building off Tip 2, ask yourself before a tough conversation, are you trying to resolve the conflict or inflict pain? It might feel good in the moment to take an eye for an eye. But let’s be honest, has this ever really made you feel better? The tongue is better used to build people up than to tear people down. It’s important to not let conflict fester, but if you can’t have a conversation without going after someone personally, it might be you’re trying to resolve things too soon.

Tip 4: Seek a third-party perspective

When the waters get hot, find a cool head. Finding a third party that you can confide in can be immensely helpful. Engage someone, a professional mentor perhaps, that can, to the best of their ability, see both sides of the story. More than once I’ve been put in my place and realized I had a bigger part to play in the conflict than I first recognized. NOTE: Best not to do this with a friend as they will be biased towards your position.

Tip 5: Be open to accepting responsibility for your part in the conflict

This is the hardest one. I try, and at times fail, to come to terms with the fact that I’m part of the problem in every conflict. Being open to this fact is so important. Without a heart open to change, you are tying an anchor around your ability to resolve the conflict and grow from it.

This has been a trying year and a half, let’s not waste the opportunity to let these difficult times be a catalyst for growth. Respectfully addressing conflict is an underappreciated skill in our culture. Just watch the news or read a paper, and it’s easy to see conflict as a money-making machine—please don’t buy it.

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