There is nothing productive about workplace conflict and difficult colleagues. Tense interactions with peers cause stress and anxiety, which impairs decision-making, focus and overall well being. For managers who haven’t had conflict resolution training, navigating the waters of workplace conflict is time consuming and extremely intricate.
It’s not an uncommon issue. We all have certain colleagues that we find difficult to interact with. It will vary for each of us, depending on what type of personalities and behaviours we are more comfortable with.
In a workplace environment, it can become problematic as you are in close proximity to a wide range of people - which increases the odds of encountering someone you may label as ‘difficult’. You may find them intrusive, too talkative, interruptive or not open to advice - to name a few.
While it may be tempting to avoid them, this can cause disruption to the workplace by inhibiting team collaboration, communication, stress levels and team culture. It can be especially tricky if you’re the manager. Here’s how to cope with workplace conflict in a productive way:
Often, the best place to start when addressing a workplace conflict issue or difficult colleague is ourselves. It may be hard to hear, we know - but stay with us. Regardless of who is more ‘at fault’, the reality is - we have no control over how other people behave or the actions they make. What we can control - and change - is how we view them.
When we experience stress or anxiety triggers our brain can go into reactive mode, which impairs our decision making and makes us more emotional and overwhelmed. Become aware of what’s really going on for you, to diffuse the situation.
Ask yourself - is it just your colleague’s behaviour that is difficult, as opposed to the person themselves? Perhaps they only exhibit this behaviour at certain times, when they’re feeling under pressure or triggered by stress themselves. Is someone really being ‘difficult’, or are they just under pressure themselves? Is it possible this person simply doesn’t have enough clarity around what’s acceptable within the workplace? If so, try taking steps to inform them of this rationally.
Use reframing techniques to see their behaviour as a strength. A ‘know it all’ could just have a love of shared learning. Someone you label as ‘stubborn’ could be celebrated for their grit and determination. An ‘overthinker’ could add a lot of value when it comes to reviewing details. Training your brain out of its negative bias and reframing situations more positively can only stand to improve your working day.
Dealing with difficult colleagues and conflict in the workplace can be tricky, but there are ways to manage it productively and generate a positive outcome for all parties. Resilience is a key attribute for being able to thrive through workplace challenges - and it’s something that we can all build with the right training.
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