The workplace often brings out conflict. When you are passionate about your work and good at your job, you're not always going to agree with everyone. In fact, conflicting viewpoints are part of what makes a workplace creative and productive. But conflict doesn't have to ruin your day or damage your relationship with your colleagues.
The idea of conflict can bring up varying degrees of problems, depending on your conflict style.
Conflict-avoidant. Your instinct may be to retreat or withdraw completely. If you're conflict-avoidant, you may become easily stifled, silent and stampeded during an argument. Your goal may be to allow yourself to speak your mind, definitively, even if it feels uncomfortable.
Aggressive. Conversely, if you tend to be on the aggressive side, emotions may run high and conflict may escalate to a point where it hurts your relationships. Instead, you can harness those emotions in a more effective way.
Assertive: Assertiveness means being able to tackle tension head-on, while staying calm and in control. Whatever your conflict style, you can work to find a middle ground where you are confident, self-assured, and able to state your opinions.
The key to success is to engage in a way that you feel reflects a sense of dignity. When your words are coming from a place of inner strength, you feel proud of your behavior and know that your values are being accurately conveyed.
Follow these rules of conflict in order to build relationships and gain credibility with your colleagues, even when there's tension.
1. Identify why you are fighting.
What is it about what the person is saying or doing that is not sitting well with you? Does it affect your own work project by putting you behind or negatively affect your ability to do your job? Is it the other person's personality and way of delivering their perspective that you find offensive? By identifying what you take issue with, you can understand your own reactions and come from a place of rational thought, as opposed to raw emotions.
2. Identify what your end goal is.
Is it to persuade the other person? Is it to reach a compromise? What parts of your goal are essential, and what parts can you let go? What would a good outcome look like? An argument tends to be the means to the end -- so figure out what that end looks like. Your goal might simply be that your coworkers understand your objections or ideas so that later on they have a reference point, or it might be that one particular decision is overturned -- goals can be practical and concrete or relational. Sometimes you can reach it without having to "argue" per se. Often the most effective conversations are when you can turn them from being adversarial fights into conversations that are meant to help both sides reach their goal. Remind the other person of your shared goal, "We both want to accomplish this. We're on the same team here."
3. Harness your emotions.
Speaking of those strong emotions -- what to do if they are present, despite trying to approach the argument with reason? When you feel strong emotions start to overwhelm you, stop and ask yourself two questions: 1) What do I have the urge to say or do right now? 2) What would happen if I did the opposite of my urge? Acting on urges in arguments is often destructive. If your urge is to rush toward conflict or hurl insults, acting the opposite would mean coolly, calmly stopping yourself. Collect yourself and once the urge passes, allow yourself to proceed again, this time with your emotions in check. Practice identifying sentences that lead with emotion, versus fact-based sentences. When you notice yourself leading with emotions, choose instead to speak with fact-based statements that prove your point based on solid evidence.
4. Create a statement to carry you through the difficult moments.
Perhaps there's a certain person who pushes your buttons or makes you feel inferior, or a boss who frustrates you beyond belief with his or her incompetence. Choose a saying that helps focus you and creates emotional distance between you and that person: "What matters to me is doing a good job and working toward my goals. Getting upset with this person is not going to help me reach those goals." Or "I'm not incompetent, and I will not allow this person to make me feel that way. I hold that power, not her."
5. Enlist support from others, although not directly.
This point has more to do with the relationships you build with your coworkers on a regular basis. When you go out of your way to be kind and helpful to others and overall are a decent person, then your colleagues are going to be more inclined to back you up when there's a difference of opinion. And sometimes those colleagues sway the argument in your favor and help accomplish what you're asking for. Make it your practice to build relationships with people and support them when you can, and you will see the results in the support you feel at work.
6. If at any point during the immediate conflict, you find it's turning hostile, make an attempt to get it back on course. Take a deep breath, and calmly say, "I think we're getting off track. What I find most important here is that ..." and then state your concern, suggestion or idea that relates to the core of the argument.
7. Ask to hear the other person's point of view.
Say, "Let me make sure I understand where you're coming from," or "I want to make sure I'm hearing your point of view correctly." Then, paraphrase what you hear the issue is based on their perspective. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, because typically in an argument you are trying to convince the other side of your perspective. Once you clearly hear their argument, you can more effectively parse out where you agree, where you disagree, and how you would propose to do things differently and why.
8. Validate their opinion and show respect.
Perhaps the other person is becoming belligerent, degrading or condescending. As difficult as it is to show consideration for someone who is not behaving appropriately in that moment, it is imperative to do so if you want to be heard. Your colleagues and superiors will notice the stark contrast, and the other person can't help but feel that you are rising to a higher level. You can show respect by letting the other person finish their sentences, saying affirmative comments, such as "I hear what you're saying," or "I appreciate you sharing your view. My sense is that ..."
9. Show confidence.
Being self-assured means that you believe in what you're saying because it makes the most sense and benefits the situation. If you have confidence on your side, it makes your argument stronger and more convincing. In order to show confidence, you must truly believe in yourself and your position. Think of past accomplishments and periods when you've been successful. Remind yourself that you have a valid and strong perspective. Also remember that part of being confident is being able to work cooperatively, non-defensively, and admit when someone else is making a good point.
10. Know when to back off.
An argument that is the loudest and gets the last word is not always the strongest. Know when to leave your argument on the table. If it's a strong argument, it will resonate with people (or the person you're trying to persuade). As you wrap up the argument, leave it with a positive ending when at all possible. "I'm glad we were able to discuss this. I know that we have different opinions, and I hope that we can come to a resolution that works for us both as we continue to work on this."
Being able to build relationships at work and on projects is a key to your success, and part of that is dealing with conflict. Know that fighting in a way that feels dignified is going to make you successful.
A version of this article appeared in Darling Magazine.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD, is a psychologist in private practice. She is the author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship, and Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious.