Several issues can lead to workplace conflicts, including personality clashes, struggles for power, skirmishes over resources and crazy-making company policies. Some conflicts can be resolved and some can't, but most can be minimized before they explode out of control. Minimizing conflict has to be a team effort, however. Each person (including you) must be responsible for the attitude she brings to the workplace.
Look in the Mirror
The cardinal rule of personal or professional interactions is this: you can’t change others -- you can only change yourself. To avoid conflict with your coworkers, make sure your own ducks are in a row. Meditate in the mornings before work and visualize a positive, productive, peaceful day. Arrive 15 to 20 minutes before your shift so you’re not rushed. Before leaving each evening, create a to-do list for the coming day. List your hardest tasks first and tackle them in the first two or three hours of your shift, when your attention is the sharpest. Minimize distractions like personal calls and email, social networking, or excessive chatting with coworkers outside of scheduled breaks. Remaining focused and productive throughout the day will lessen your chances of feeling overwhelmed and overworked, which can lead to feelings of resentment and under-appreciation and create conflict.
Clarification is crucial in order to avoid workplace conflict, since misunderstandings and miscommunication can lead to bad attitudes all around. Know the ins and outs of your role within your organization, and your role within collaborative duties. For group projects, get everyone's agreed upon responsibilities in writing, so there won't be any "he said," "she said" or finger pointing later. If sharing space and resources is an issue, create schedules and supply lists that accommodate everyone's needs.
Talk it Out
Open communication is essential for avoiding work conflict, as it keeps small issues from festering into big problems. If you don’t understand a particular concept or you need help with your workload, ask questions. If you’re working with colleagues on a project, give frequent updates on your progress. Vocalize suggestions and criticisms in a constructive manner by consistently mentioning what co-workers do well before bringing up what needs improvement. Practice active listening: make eye-contact, use encouraging non-verbal cues like nodding or raising your eyebrows, and repeat back certain words and phrases so co-workers know they’ve been heard. For example, “What you’re saying is...”, or “Let me make sure I understand you correctly...” Always think before you speak, and never respond to a coworker or supervisor out of anger.
If a conflict does arise and a solution isn’t forthcoming, enlist a supervisor or HR rep to act as a mediator. When co-workers are frustrated, emotions can run high. A mediator helps diffuse the bomb by helping colleagues see each other’s points of view. So before you say something to get yourself into trouble, bite your tongue and get a referee.
Do Unto Others
Avoiding conflict in the workplace is as simple as the golden rule: Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. This means no talking behind anyone’s back. If you have a problem with a coworker, tell her (professionally and politely) to her face or keep it to yourself. Gossiping leads to feelings of distrust, disrespect and ruins the spirit of teamwork. Don’t listen to gossip either -- if Sally wants to talk about Mary, tell her you’d rather wait until Mary was there to give her point of view. You can also minimize workplace conflict by creating an atmosphere of respect and appreciation. Make a habit of telling your co workers why they’re awesome. Find something you like about everyone. And refrain from offensive comments or jokes, since you never know who you might offend. Keep your conversation cordial and professional.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.