Diffusing Tension in the Workplace

Resolve conflict and bring peace to the work world

The workplace is complicated. It doesn’t matter if you work on an assembly line, type away at a cubicle, make cold calls in a call center, or take customer orders at a dinner table; you always deal with other people.

We’re all human and we have bad days. And sometimes you might do something inadvertently to make someone’s day worse. It could be a miscommunication via email, perhaps you chew loudly, or maybe there’s a scheduling conflict you just can’t agree on. These little things add up and suddenly there’s tension between the two of you.

Getting rid of that tension is one of the most important workplace soft skills. An employee who can effectively resolve conflict is priceless. So, how is this accomplished?

There are five main styles for managing conflict, according to Thomas, Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann originators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. The key is to figure out the right mix of styles for any given situation, and recognize your coworker’s preferred conflict management style.

Here are those given conflict management styles, as outlined by SourcesOfInsight.com.

  1. Accommodating

Think of this as killing your enemy with kindness.

Basically, if accommodating is your style of choice, your tendency is to give into the other person’s desires without making sure you get what you want. Maybe you think your boss’ idea is less than great, but don’t tell them because that would make waves.

Although it might sound cowardly on paper, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the accommodating style. All styles are valid. For example, it’s usually better to defer to those with more experience when you’re new to the job.

  1. Avoiding 

With this style, you avoid conflict at all costs. You never win arguments and prefer to stay out of the combat zone entirely. You don’t want to say no so you end up saying nothing. Think of this as the “let well enough alone” mentality.

Avoidance is a great for when emotions are running high and you need time to think, when you know you can’t win, or just don’t feel like the situation is worth the effort. Why engage when there will be minimal gains?

  1. Collaborating

Think of this as the “win-win” scenario. You want to work with your coworker in order to achieve common ground and for everyone to get what they want.

This is a great conflict resolution style when everyone is already on the same page. You trust each other, value teamwork,  say what you mean, and don’t have to worry about hurt feelings. It’s not a great choice when emotions are running high or people’s viewpoints are diametrically opposed.

  1. Competing

This is the “might makes right” mentality. You want to get what you want no matter what, and the opposing side’s wishes aren’t important.

Again, this sounds like the angry boss who intimidates his direct reports into getting something done. In that case, it’s not the best decision. But if you’re an accountant on a deadline and someone on another team is trying to tell you how to do your job, competing is a perfect response. You know your job better than someone in a different department, and don’t have time to worry about hurt feelings.

  1. Compromising

Think of this as standard negotiating procedure. The “give and take” approach. You and your coworker both work toward a solution by giving things up until common ground is reached.

The main problem with this one is that it takes time and isn’t affective when someone is unwilling to give anything up. That means it’s best used when you need a temporary solution or when both sides have important goals. However, beware: compromising can frequently be the result when collaborating is the better choice because it’s easier to get done. But if everyone can get what they want with a bit of hard work, why not go that route?

If you’re partial to any of these conflict resolution tactics, ask yourself if you’re trying the same solution in every situation and not getting the results you need. If you are, you might want to explore other methods to get rid of the problem.

Have you ever had to solve a workplace dispute? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Responses to “Diffusing Tension in the Workplace”

  1. Nick Nalepa #

    I love your guys articles! And I follow all of these my whole life, but my job I just quit today as an electrician. I worked hard like always with every other job at trying to resolve but it was nothing short of bad physically, mentally, and psychologically so I had to quit. It was thanks to your guys articles I know I did the right thing however now I’m going to deal with my parents calling me names for the next few days until I can get my old job back with you guys.

    October 4, 2018 at 2:55 pm Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Thanks Nick!

      October 4, 2018 at 4:38 pm Reply

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