Make Work Enjoyable: 7 Ways to Resolve Conflict with Coworkers

7 Ways to Resolve Conflict with Coworkers

In the United States alone, 70% of the people who will go to work today will tell you they don’t like their jobs. I don’t think that’s just an American issue. It’s a people issue.

So many people I know get frustrated at work. And one of the top frustrations?

The people they work with.

What surprised me (although with a 70% figure clearly it shouldn’t have) is that many of you who read this blog struggle at work too.

I love hearing from you, and through my New Reader Input Survey blog readers can give input into the kind of subjects you want to hear about (you can take the survey anytime here by the way).

Many of you identified interpersonal struggles in the workplace as a top frustration point.

I think Christians often struggle with conflict:

In the name of grace we feel we often need to sacrifice truth.

When we speak truth, we often don’t know how to speak it with grace.

We worry about hurting other people’s feelings, when really one of the best things we can do is offer honest feedback.

We’re not sure how to support someone we genuinely disagree with.

None of that needs to be.

I have learned (through trial and error), that these 7 strategies below can help me deal with conflict.

I hope they can help you.

They can work with coworkers, with a boss, with a volunteer – with anyone you have a relationship with. You don’t need to be their boss or even have any ‘power’ over them.

Here are 7 ways that I hope can help you resolve conflict with someone you work with:

1. Own your part of the problem. Conflict and even bad chemistry is almost never 100% one person’s fault. One of the best expressions I’ve heard of how to figure out the extent to which you might be part of the problem is to ask a compelling question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me? Jeff Henderson asked that question in a great series at North Point Church called Climate Change. You can listen to the message for free here, and a scroll through the small group questions in and of itself is instructive. Own what you can. What is it like to be on the other side of you? Ask some people.

2. Go direct. Often issues are mishandled because we talk about someone rather than to someone. Your co-worker at the water cooler isn’t the problem, so why talk to him about it? Jesus was crystal clear on how to handle conflict, but very few Christians follow his practice. In the name of being ‘nice’ (I can’t tell her that!), we become ineffective. Talk to the person you have the problem with. Directly. Or else just be quiet about it.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They might not realize how they are coming across. It’s okay to say that out loud. “Rachel, you might not realize this, but sometimes you emails can come across as demanding or even demeaning. I’m not sure you’re aware of that, but I just wanted to let you know how they leave me feeling sometimes.” That gives the person an out, and frankly, many times, they probably had no idea they were coming across negatively.

4. Explain. Don’t blame. How to talk to the person you’re struggling with is where many people struggle. And those conversations often go sideways because people begin with blame. Don’t blame. Explain. Instead of saying “You always” or “You never” (which might be how you feel like starting), begin by talking about how you experience them. If you’re dealing with an ‘angry person’ for example, you might frame it this way “Jake, I just want you to know that when you get upset in a meeting, it makes me feel like the discussion is over and I can’t make a contribution.” If you’re you’re dealing with gossip, try something like:  “Ryan, on Tuesday when you told me what happened to Greg on the weekend, I felt like that was something Greg should have told me directly.” Do you hear the difference between explaining and blaming?

5. Be specific. Giving one or two specific incidents is much better making general accusations or commenting on personality traits. “The other day in the meeting” or “In your email on the the August numbers yesterday” is much more helpful then “You just always seem so frustrated.”  The more specific you are, the more you de-escalate conflict and move toward a hopeful ending.

6. Tell them you want things to get better. What the person you’re confronting needs is hope. At this point, they probably feel defensive, ashamed and (hopefully) sorry. Let them know the gifts they bring to the table and the good they do.

7. Pray for them. I know this sounds trite, but it’s not. Don’t pray about them. Pray for them. It is almost impossible to stay angry with someone you pray for. It can also give you empathy for them, and at least in your minds eye, it places you both firmly at the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness. It will take any smirk of superiority out of your attitude, which goes a long way toward solving problems.

Do these seven steps always result in a positive outcome? No. But I believe they will resolve the majority of cases in front of you in a very healthy way. At least they have for me. (This approach, by the way, is also effective at home and in most relationships in life.)

I don’t get all 7 approaches right every time, but when I can practice them, I find that conflict almost always resolves better.

What would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?

4 Comments

  1. David Cumby on August 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Also, dealing with difficult personalities and negative inluencers, as someone reminded me You cannot hope or expect as a manager or co-worker to change “personality” only the behaviour … I like the reminder to use “I” versus “You” statements, and the effort to explain rather hen simply blaming or complaining; while it doesn’t always work, these approaches have a far greater chance of succeeding as you say ,,,

  2. Adrianne on August 13, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I would add: Use “I” statements. This is sort of what you’re getting at with #4, but it is an easy way to keep a disagreement from escalating. More important, if reminds us to take ownership of our feelings. Rather than, “When you did that, YOU made me feel…” we say, “When you did that, I felt…” Sometimes, this also helps give us clues to our own past that help us understand why were are so affected by another person’s actions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

      The “I” versus “you’ statements point is excellent. Thank you!

  3. Stephanie Walker on August 13, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Great insight Carey- Something I know I often struggle with. I see my co-workers more than my family and want that to be the most positive and productive time it can be. I can see how implementing these 7 strategies will help me have a better work week and all my great co-workers too!

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