7 Ways to Understand Workplace Conflict (Without Throwing a Punch)

An international study done by CCP Capital found the majority of employees (85%) deal with conflict to some degree during their work week. Unsurprisingly, poorly managed conflicts cost - the average employee spends over two hours a week dealing with conflicts, adding up to 385 million work days nationwide spent on conflict resolution every year.

Dealing with conflict, from upset customers, irate managers, or co-workers, is one of the most frustrating and costly tasks we handle. Our natural reaction when faced with conflict is to fight back and defend ourselves, yet doing so rarely resolves the problem. In fact, it can make the situation worse.

To best handle conflict, it's important to understand the role anger plays and how it should be handled. Understanding anger boils down to 7 certainties.

When people are angry, they don’t listen.

Anger makes people much less likely to listen at all, let alone listen to reason. Reacting to angry people will do little to change their minds and could, in fact, make them more angry.

When people are angry, they don’t monitor what they say.

Just as angry people don’t listen to you, they probably aren’t listening to themselves, either. This means they are not thinking clearly—they are just reacting with words.

When people don’t listen and just react, communication is pretty much MIA.

Communication requires a thoughtful exchange of information. What happens when one or both parties is angry is more akin to venting than communicating or problem solving.

Problems tend to multiply when we’re angry.

If communication isn’t happening, the original problem’s not getting solved. In addition, potential alliances and relationships become strained, which creates even more obstacles.

You can’t have a logical conversation if someone is illogical.

Strong emotions, like anger, swamp our ability to think logically. So even trying to reason with an angry person will fail or even make matters worse.

You can’t surrender to your impulses.

Your first instinct when dealing with an angry person will be to get angry yourself. You will want to argue and attack, or deflect and avoid. These are the worst reactions you can have and they will quickly escalate the situation.

To de-escalate conflict, you must break the cycle of anger.

If someone is angry with you and you react in an angry, rude, or challenging manner, this makes the other person angrier. The cycle continues and harm becomes likely. The best way to avoid this cycle, then, is to break it early. Don’t get hooked by the other person’s emotional state.

Of course, these truths only scratch the surface of conflict management. How, for example, do you maintain a calm, cool, and collected demeanor when others are angry and upset? How do you resolve the conflict once things have cooled down?

And while conflict might on the surface seem undesirable, correctly managed conflict can spur growth and creativity within the company. What matters is not whether conflict exists or not, but whether you are ready to handle it.

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