Resolve Conflicts Quickly

See also: Communicating in Difficult Situations

Besides death and taxes, there may be an inevitability that Ben Franklin left off his list: conflict. This is especially true in the workplace—even for remote workers: Eighty percent of whom have experienced conflict at their jobs. And contentiousness doesn't discriminate. In fact, the more education you have, the more likely you are to encounter conflict in the workplace. Roughly 87% of those with a master's or doctorate have reported significant work conflicts, in comparison to 83% and 73% for those with a bachelor's or only some college education, respectively.

The good news is there are some straightforward, effective ways of settling workplace conflicts. By taking the following steps, you can say goodbye to office awkwardness, strengthen your team, and feel better going—or logging into—work.

Communicate Directly

Direct communication is one of the cornerstones of conflict resolution. In fact, indirect communication automatically introduces yet another conflict, that which exists between what someone actually said and what someone else claims they said. To avoid this issue, it's best to have a direct, face-to-face conversation with the person with whom you're having conflict.

This may mean talking over the phone or via videoconference. Also, because of everyone's clogged, jam-packed schedules, it may also require patience.

Direct communication is particularly useful when it comes to resolving conflicts with customers. A customer may initially invest in your product or service. But the overall experience will be deeply impacted by the rapport they have with you and your employees. Therefore, it's crucial that you enable as many methods of communication as possible. A toll-free number, for instance, makes it easy for customers to reach out to resolve conflicts regarding products or experiences with your staff. Also, if you include an 800 number in an email about an issue, you effectively extend an olive branch, telling the customer you value the resolution of this conflict enough to go as far as paying for the call that can set matters straight.

Find a Way to Offer the Other Party Something

By offering the other party something, you can take advantage of the psychological concept of reciprocity. According to Psychology Today, people feel obligated to give something back to someone who has provided them with something. Sometimes, all you want in return is peace, respect, or even just a listening ear. To inspire the other party to give you this, or more, you can try offering them:

  • The opportunity to have a conversation at any time that's convenient for them. You can specifically mention that you're willing to skip lunch, a break, a meeting, or another obligation to accommodate them.

  • A sincere apology before the conversation. Dig deep for something that you did wrong, and if you can't find something, dig deeper. Apologize for that, and then offer to talk to hear their perspective.

  • A relaxed meal, snack, or beverage as the backdrop for your conflict resolution. This could be as easy as, "Hey, could I buy you a coffee and croissant? I feel awful, and I just wanna connect for a few minutes."

Use "That Makes Me Feel" Statements

This is one of the easiest ways to express yourself in a way without adding tension to the situation. Instead of saying, "It's rude when you cut me off during team meetings!" you can say, "When you interrupt me during team meetings, I feel as if you don't value what I have to say." Can you feel the difference? The former forces the person to defend themselves, possibly striking back with their own accusation. But the latter invites multiple positive responses, such as,

  • "Oh, wow, I had no idea you felt that way."

  • "I never meant to do that, I was just passionate about my point. That's my bad."

  • "I definitely value what you have to say. Always."

Each of the above paves the way for a more peaceful conversation.

Use Appropriate Eye Contact

Eye contact, in many cultures, conveys a sense of respect and sincerity. Psychologist Audrey Nelson Ph.D. says, "Looking away contributes to a sense of psychological distance." She continues by saying it may even be interpreted as a function of anger. In other words, you could be—unintentionally—saying, "I'm so mad at you, I can't even look at you." So it's best to maintain at least some eye contact while talking, if possible, even if that means looking at their face during a videoconference instead of your screen, keyboard, or your own face.

If you're not sure if the person's culture views eye contact in the same way, you can be open about your intentions by saying, "Forgive me if this is out of line, but I tend to make eye contact when I really care about what I'm saying."

On the other hand, if you feel so awkward making eye contact, you can also acknowledge that by saying something to the effect of, "Hey, sorry for looking away, eye contact is tough for me when I feel nervous or vulnerable."

Show That You're Actively Listening

You should provide some sort of reaction to every statement the person makes, even if it's very subtle and nonverbal. For example, you can:

  • Nod your head in agreement

  • Furrow your brow in thought as you consider the importance of what they just said

  • Smile in acceptance

  • Rub your chin in thought

  • Move your hair out of your eyes to show you're not hiding your facial reaction to what they just said

In addition, it's good to take a moment to briefly reiterate what they just said before responding. This works very well and is equally effective over a phone call. If this feels awkward, you can say something like, "I just want to make sure I fully understand what you're saying. If I hear you correctly, you're saying you felt I was being selfish when I took credit for our team's accomplishment last week." Allow them to confirm, and then continue with, "OK, I see. Thanks for sharing that. Wow, I'm really sorry. I didn't even know…"

Offer to Fix the Situation or Improve Yourself

By offering to remedy the situation, you show that you're not only sorry for the part you played but that you respect the person so much that you're willing to take a proactive step. Ideally, the person accepts your offer. But if they don't, the gesture itself can be enough to create a longer-lasting peace.

For example, if you're being accused of taking credit for someone else's work or not giving others enough credit, you can offer to send a quick email to the boss explaining the importance of everyone else's contribution. That way, it's not only expressed, but it's also in writing—which makes your compliment easy to copy and paste into an evaluation. It's a gift that can keep on giving.

Communication is essential to conflict resolution—and prevention. By providing customers with a toll-free number, you can pave the way for the kind of smooth, consistent communication that can resolve conflicts or stop them before they even start.

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About the Author

Dan Annetts is the Director of Outreach & PR at Dan comes from a content marketing and technology background with a passion for SAAS technology. When he's not burrowed in his laptop, you will often find him in the fields with his beloved dog, Lola.