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Keeping Your Cool When Things Heat Up at the Office

With the different backgrounds, experiences and skills that exist among a group of people in the workplace, you are bound to find collaborative efforts and fruitful results that exceed what could have ever been possible by anyone working in isolation. However, the differing viewpoints can also spark tension or even lead to varying levels of conflict. It is unavoidable that differences will arise and gaps will need bridging. When agreed-upon resolutions are reached, the satisfaction for everyone involved can actually be strengthened from the process. The key is to develop skills as a good, level-headed team player who knows how to build bridges. As with all other skills, these can be learned and practiced.

Identify when tension is building.
Be on the lookout for opposing perspectives, inclinations toward competition, seeking of power or even the impact of moodiness, such as feeling grumpy while having a bad day. It’s often critical to be mindful of what others are experiencing so their reactions are not as surprising to you. Also, take note of others’ communication styles. Some people like to address differences head-on by sharing their perspectives openly and assertively. Others may find that approach threatening and prefer time to think before speaking. That, too, will likely impact how differences are approached and resolved, along with how you effectively navigate the process.

Understand any conflict present.
Essentially, what is the nature of conflict from different viewpoints? Is it possible that anyone is uninformed or misinformed? Sometimes tensions can be diffused through mutual understanding, but sometimes they can’t. In that case, make it your mission to truly and deeply understand the other person’s perspective before sharing your own. What is important to the other person, and how is that impactful in the current tension? If you can demonstrate understanding for what the other person is experiencing, through listening closely and expressing what you have heard, you might also diffuse the conflict. At the least, compassion and empathy can begin to pave the way to resolution.

Take steps toward resolution.
Ensure that all viewpoints have adequate “air time.” If only one viewpoint is shared, it is highly unlikely that others involved will genuinely be sold on any decisions made. If emotions become intense, it might be best to have everyone back away from a heated topic and take some deep breaths. Especially if you are aware of emotion clouding your judgment, take steps to ensure any outbursts or temper flare-ups do not make things worse. Stepping back from the conflict can sometimes help all involved to see the bigger picture and regain a more thoughtful and deliberate approach.

As you address opposing sides, be sure your language is consistently professional and respectful. Others are much less likely to feel attacked or threatened. Address issues from as much of an objective standpoint as possible. For example, talking about how deadlines cannot be missed in order to meet business goals is a much different angle than talking with someone about “how your procrastination keeps getting in the way.” One approach is targeting an observed behavior; the other is judging a person. Along the same lines, avoid taking things personally. Conflict is going to arise, and it is rarely any reflection upon you as a person. If it is, you might need to involve someone with greater oversight or mediation skills.

Pick your battles. Differences of opinion are common; not all of them need to be addressed or certainly tackled. In some situations, you might be able to reach a compromise quickly and easily. Furthermore, if you are personally able to do this, you will likely garner increased respect from others and an appreciation that you address issues only when they are of true importance.

Prevent future tensions.
As has been noted, expect opposing viewpoints, intentions and goals. As soon as you are aware a conflict or opposition is occurring, find appropriate means for addressing it before it can escalate and become an impairment. It might also be helpful to have established guidelines that clearly define any overarching expectations and goals. This can identify what is acceptable among the individuals in the work group, and it might provide the framework for how collaboration occurs and how decisions are made. That in itself might curb conflict and help you know your role in the process.

Create a culture that does not fuel the generation and spreading of rumors and gossip. Such communications are damaging as they chip away at professional relationships and mutual respect. Instead, demonstrate appreciation for others by your desire to truly understand them. Pay close attention to what others share and express that you have heard it. That does not necessarily mean that you agreed with everything the other person discussed, but it does evidence that you value the other person and understand him or her. Ultimately, you then lay the foundation for meaningful exchanges in which you are calm and collected while bridging future gaps. HLM

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