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Navigating Workplace Conflicts

Navigating Workplace Conflicts

Conflicts are part of our everyday lives. How well we deal with these situations directly affects the quality of our lives and how well we achieve your goals. My reflection from experience.

Why do conflicts happen?

Any work environment is an aggressive environment, just in different ways. Not in the sense that colleagues and bosses abuse you, but in the sense that people in general are different from each other — everybody has different interests, goals, values, whatever. This means that whatever you do, you will always be infringing on someone else's interests, entering someone else's area of responsibility. Wherever you work, if you have colleagues, you will constantly be communicating with them and you will probably have conflicts, unfortunately.

How to nip this volcano in the bud and decent way out of a conflict situation? And is it necessary to extinguish it — maybe it is a path to development?

Behavioral strategies in conflicts

The main rule in a conflict is to consciously choose your line of behavior and to remember, among other things, the impact of the relationship with the person on your long-term goals. Building long-term relationships with people overwhelmingly outweighs the benefits of a possible short-term victory. Conflicts of any kind are destructive to relationships.

Conflicts strategies

Choose a strategy of behavior wisely. There are not many of these strategies; you can imagine them for yourself:

  1. Avoidance. Avoid conflict when you need to buy time, or the conflict is not worth the effort. Avoidance is not appropriate when you need to make quick decisions and the cost of delay is too high. You wouldn't, for example, avoid conflict if the health of you or your loved ones were at stake, would you?
  2. Accommodation. This strategy involves giving in to your opponent to prevent a confrontation. You completely ignore your own concerns and act according to your opponent's plan. Give in when the conflict issue is not important to you. But don't overdo it, lest you be seen as weak.
  3. Competition. Competition means pushing your own interests as far as possible, possibly to the detriment of your opponent's interests. Use competition when the conflict cannot be resolved constructively, you are confident that you will win, and you accept the risks of ruining your relationship with your opponent. This is a bit of a gray area, so be careful not to use this strategy often.
  4. Compromise and Cooperation. This strategy involves the most constructive behavior on both sides.

Compromise and Cooperation

Have you ever noticed that for most people, "compromise" is almost a swear word? Allegedly, compromise is the province of cowards and conformists. But even children understand that when interests conflict, it is important to give in and negotiate. Adults, on the other hand, often do not understand this and behave according to the "all or nothing" principle... it sucks for everyone.

Step 1 - Pause and Breathe

Conflict can turn us into knee-jerk reactors, but guess what? You don't have to be. Take a moment to chill, observe, and think before you dive in. This pause can not only save your sanity but also cool down the heated debate.

Reacting

One of the hardest things about conflict is being under pressure without immediately choosing a particular behavioral strategy. We are used to reacting instantly, whether to confront or walk away from the conflict. If there is no threat to life, it is possible not to react immediately, we can just observe, examine the behavior of the opponent and our own reactions. Sometimes such a pause can be useful in order to quietly ask questions of the other party and consciously choose your reaction. Moreover, such a pause can reduce the pressure and calm the opponent.

Step 2 - Understanding the Other Side

Assuming good intentions can go a long way. Try to really hear what the other person is saying, even if you're thinking about what's for dinner.

People often speak in code, and it's your job to crack it. So it's worth clarifying what we heard first, trying to reflect the other person's thoughts as accurately as possible. But in order to do that, we have to listen carefully, without interrupting and without going deeper into our own internal dialogue.

The pause and the desire to understand the truth of the other gives both sides an opportunity to reflect on what is being said. And, perhaps, to notice something more than was voiced. Most conflicts flare up because we react to the other side's position and hear only it. But first, we sometimes hear not what the person means, distorting the meaning through our expectations, fears, or stereotypes of perception. And secondly, besides the stated position, our opponent also has his own fears, expectations, intentions, which are not voiced, and there may be a lot of important and useful for a constructive solution to the conflict.

Step 3 - Finding a Compromise

Ah, the sweet spot! When you understand your opponent's thoughts and motives, you must try to find a mutual benefit so that both you and your opponent have some common goal that is clear to both. This is not always possible, but it is important to find possible mutually exclusive interests to understand whether it will be necessary to make mutual concessions (compromise), or it will be possible to achieve the full satisfaction of the parties (full cooperation).

At work, for example, you can move into cooperation through the search for common KPIs or other mutual benefits. If that is not found, go in through building a good relationship or formal agreements. And only lastly escalate the issue above. This tactic very rarely fails.

But. There is always but. In my opinion, very bad way of coming to agreement is compromise in all the technical decision making. Compromising on technical decisions can lead to suboptimal solutions that may satisfy neither party fully. It often results in a "lowest common denominator" approach, where the most innovative or efficient solutions are overlooked in favor of a middle ground. This can stifle creativity and prevent the adoption of the best technological practices. Instead, a more effective approach in such scenarios is to base decisions on data, expert opinions, and best practices, ensuring decisions are made on merit rather than through a compromise that could dilute the quality of the technical solution.

Conclusion

As a rule, people who know how to resolve conflicts know all these strategies and can therefore choose and combine them. However, most of us have "blind spots" in one or more sectors. We are all human. Different. So the conflict is how to find common ground, at a minimum, and reach a new level of development, personal and organizational, at a maximum.

Materials



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