Every workplace, large and small, is a unique mix of people and personalities. While the goal is to unite these disparate individuals toward a common purpose, personal conflict can make that goal difficult to achieve. Be it a difference in backgrounds, work experiences or overall outlook, whatever the reason, conflict at work is harmful and counter-productive. In these situations, it is important to maintain a sense of professionalism. Here are some tips you may find helpful.
- Avoid Workplace Gossip – Gossip is one of the most common sources of tension in the workplace. Many of us have worked with people who want to be seen as “in the know”, who insert themselves into situations where they do not belong or who seem to monitor their co-workers to “rat them out” to their superiors. Office gossips will not hesitate to embellish a good story or jump to conclusions based on little to no real information. Office gossips are often trying to entertain themselves, seek attention or enhance their credibility in the office. When, in fact, they achieve just the opposite. Deep down no one trusts a gossip. We all have the innate understanding that someone who gossips to you will gossip about you. Real credibility in a group comes from building up trust over time, keeping good counsel with your friends and co-workers and reminding yourself that work is a place to be positive and productive.
- Keep Your Cool – The workplace can be fraught with stress and tension. Some people express this frustration by raising their voice or treating others badly. This can be very difficult to deal with. When someone exhibits a bad temper it is important not to take the bait. Trying to match the volume or intensity to make your point will only escalate the tension. Temper is the opposite of open-minded rational thought. When you encounter a co-worker getting hot under the collar, or feel your own frustration level rising, take a moment to realize the chance for meaningful persuasion is very low. Do your best to remove yourself from the situation and pick up the topic when everyone has had some time to cool off.
- The Solo Player – The most effective workplaces are driven by a sense of teamwork. Often you encounter a co-worker who carries themselves with a sense of superiority. They believe their ideas are always best, they know more than everyone else and they have no use for the team. While this type of co-worker can appear extremely confident, their behavior is often rooted in massive insecurity. They mask their lack of true confidence with an outward performance of arrogance and bravado. One strategy for dealing with this office personality is to look for ways to support their self-esteem, be quick with a complement, find ways of working their ideas into the mix and look for opportunities to validate their importance to the team.
- Avoid Joining the Clique – Some workplaces can devolve into factions over time. Subtle social groups can form and an “us vs. them” mentality can develop transforming the professional workplace into a high school lunchroom. Humans have a deep need to feel a sense of belonging. Workplace cliques can be a way to express that desire. This becomes a problem when the group is defined more by who is excluded than who is included. The feeling of being left out or ostracized can be very harmful to moral. The best way to counter these impulses is to remember you are all part of the same team. It can be hard to eliminate the social pressures that lead to cliques. Often the best you can do is model good behavior and be inclusive to all around you.
- Leave the Hot-Button at Home – It seems obvious, but the workplace is not the appropriate venue for controversy. The coworker who insists on expounding on politics, religion or other hot topics of the day and is always ready with their full-throated opinion has no way of knowing how their controversial statements are perceived by others. Others may be sensitive about such topics and pressing the conversation can make them profoundly uncomfortable. Even in the best-case scenario, where coworkers engage in thoughtful and well informed debate, these issues distract from the mission of productivity of the organization. Resist the urge to engage and, if necessary, politely ask to change the subject. Over time your coworkers will get the message.
The bottom line is often the best way to promote professional behavior in the workplace is to lead by example. Try to be a model for other to follow. Lastly, if conflicts are interfering with the conduct of business that is harmful to everyone and should be brought to the attention of management or Human Resources professionals.