Diffusing Workplace Drama

Handling Disagreements the Healthy Way

Disagreements in our lives are inevitable, but they can be especially uncomfortable at work. It’s crucial to resolve an issue with a coworker or a difficult situation with a supervisor quickly before it can cause more problems. We asked Jan Goldsmith, co-founder and CEO of The Knowledge Firm, a conflict resolution and mediation company, to dive into the details of good communication and unraveling conflicts.

While friction between coworkers can be uncomfortable, it’s important to note that there is a difference between good conflict and bad conflict. Healthy conflict occurs when people have differences in opinions or work styles that are approached calmly and constructively. Working through them can promote compassion and understanding and even lead to “growth and innovation within individuals and teams,” Goldsmith says. Bad conflict, on the other hand, is destructive and detrimental to the people involved. Goldsmith describes these kinds of disputes as those “based on personal attacks, deep-rooted animosity, or a lack of willingness to find common ground.”

Though it may be tempting, it’s never a good idea to ignore a conflict or push it off until later. Unresolved issues can create an atmosphere of negativity and distrust and be a barrier to communication between team members. It can even spread to multiple departments and “lead to reduced job satisfaction and increased turnover,” she explains.

illustration of a female woman talking to her male co-worker

When you’re working through a problem, the goal should be to come to a constructive solution rather than play the blame game and hash out past events. “Encourage a problem-solving mindset among all involved and strive for mutually beneficial outcomes that address the root causes of the problem,” Goldsmith suggests.

Two other key factors in navigating these difficult workplace situations are emotional and social intelligence. Emotional intelligence, as Goldsmith explains, is awareness and effective management of your own emotions as well as the ability to empathize with the emotions of others. “Social intelligence is the capacity to understand others, what motivates them, and how they work, as well as the ability to work cooperatively with others,” she says.

Clear, open communication paired with active listening and social and emotional intelligence will help successfully clear up these sticky workplace situations. “Remember, conflict is a natural part of human interaction; resolving it can lead to stronger relationships and a healthier work environment,” Goldsmith shares.

The Knowledge Firm’s Top Conflict Resolution Tips

1. Encourage open communication, compromise, and collaboration:

Create a safe space for both parties to express their concerns and perspectives. Encourage active listening and ensure everyone can share their side of the issue.

2. Identify the underlying causes:

Try to understand the root causes of the conflict. Conflicts arise from miscommunication, differences in work styles, or conflicting goals. Identifying these underlying factors can help in finding appropriate solutions.

3. Remain neutral and objective:

It’s crucial for managers to remain neutral and avoid taking sides. Approach a conflict with an aim mindset and focus on finding a fair resolution.

4. Foster a culture of empathy and understanding:
Encourage empathy among all involved and the understanding of each other’s viewpoints, including the impact of their actions. Promote a sense of shared goals and teamwork.

5. Document the agreement:

Once reached, document the details and ensure both parties know the expectations and responsibilities moving forward. This provides a reference point if conflict(s) re-emerge.

6. Lead by example:
Demonstrate positive conflict resolution behaviors as a leader. Model effective communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills to inspire others to do the same.

Picture of Jan Goldsmith

Jan Goldsmith

Co-Founder & CEO, The Knowledge Firm

Get access to the next issue before it hits the stands!