Marketwired Blog

Resolving Workplace Conflict

By Kelli Korducki


One of the disadvantages of having a team of human beings working together is that human beings aren’t perfect. Disagreements will inevitably occur and personalities will probably clash. The good news is that workplace conflict is easily fixable. The bad news is that, left ignored, it can become seriously poisonous to any office environment. The close quarters of small business environments can make tense relations within a team even more difficult to bear.


According to Rob Cairns, a Vancouver-based consultant who specializes in workplace mediation and conflict resolution, unresolved conflict within the workplace can be costly. Among the negative consequences Cairns sites are reduced job satisfaction among employees, a loss of productivity, and reduced workplace loyalty.


When it comes to solving conflict, Cairns says that listening skills are critical.


“Most of the time people don’t actually listen very well when they get into conflict,” he says. “They get triggered or emotional about something they have a strong belief about and forget there’s another person involved in the conversation.”


Cairns uses nonviolent communication as a model for conflict resolution in business settings. It’s a four-step process that involves observation, identifying and expressing feelings, being aware of the underlying needs connected to the feelings expressed, and making requests as opposed to demands. He approaches this model with clients from a philosophical framework that acknowledges developmental differences that might exist between disagreeing parties.


“When you’re talking to a child, you need to make allowances for the fact that they have a different world view and understanding of things,” he says. “What we don’t actually pay attention to is that adults aren’t all at the same level, either.”


As Cairns explains it, when two adults at different levels of consciousness talk about something that they don’t agree on, neither is necessarily aware that their different life stages may be contributing to miscommunication or disagreement. It’s important to try to factor that awareness into conversations. Ultimately, it’s about getting both parties to work toward understanding where the other is coming from and making sure everyone knows their concerns are being heard.


In terms of worst practices for conflict resolution, using judgmental language is something to be avoided at all costs. As Cairns puts it, feeling judged puts people on the defensive, which can derail a process of working together to find common ground. The problem is that sometimes people don’t realize the built-in value judgments within certain statements.


“[You want to say] ‘I think it would be best if we did it this way, rather than ‘This is the way to do it,’” he explains, citing a typical example of accidentally judgmental language. “That creates a lot of conflict that wouldn’t otherwise occur.”


Otherwise, it’s tricky to pinpoint any hard and fast rule for what is and isn’t appropriate to do or say in a conflict situation. The best advice is to listen carefully and be considerate.


As Cairns puts it: “One of the most challenging things we do as human beings is try to understand each other and communicate effectively.”

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