Every office has its particular personalities, touchy subjects, and stressful times. In fact, in any work environment, some level of conflict is perfectly normal—even healthy.
But what happens when conflicts arise every single day? And worse: What if it starts to affect your work performance, or even your mental well-being?
We went to an expert to find out how to deal. Kali Rogers is a mental health counselor founder of Blush, an online life coaching service for women around the world. Below, she answers our most pressing questions about dealing with disagreement and miscommunication at work.
Q: What kind of workplace conflict is normal/healthy? At what point does it need to be addressed?
A: Almost all conflict is healthy unless it becomes disrespectful. The content of the conflict isn’t what is necessarily important; it’s the process. Meaning, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the argument at hand is about as long as it’s handled in a professional and respectful matter.
The second someone crosses a line and disrupts someone’s mental processes or emotional well-bring at work, that’s when an issue needs to be addressed. So instead of having “hot button issues” be off-limits, concentrate more on tone of voice, message delivery, and kinder words.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you think people make in workplace communication?
A: The biggest mistake people make is assuming everyone else has the same thought process as them. People have different personalities, different communication styles, and different ways of thinking, but for some reason a vast majority of us assume everyone thinks in an identical process—and that’s why most communication misfires happen. People expect a certain timeline, tone, phrasing, medium—and then they receive something completely different that they weren’t anticipating. These missed expectations can easily cause frustration among coworkers.
Q: What’s your #1 communication tip for colleagues?
A: Manage expectations as often as possible. If you are communicating information and expect a certain response in return, spell it out for others. If coworkers hang onto expectations internally without sharing them with others, they are essentially assuming that their coworkers are mind readers and will be able to glean the correct response through telecommunication. This is a fantasy! Be as thorough and as clear as possible about any expectations you have. This will pave the way for much clearer communication and effective results.
Q: If you feel like you and a coworker have had an misunderstanding, what are some tips to bring it up in a productive way?
1. Avoid blaming language, such as “I feel like you ________.”
2. Take responsibility for any mistakes you believe you made during the process. This will decrease others’ defensiveness.
3. Set a friendly tone beforehand. Assume that this incident will be resolved, and have that attitude approaching the conversation.
4. Don’t bring it up in front of others to avoid any embarrassment.
Q: What are some tips to keep your cool when you feel like you’re going to blow up (or start to cry!)?
A: If you feel things escalating, take a break as soon as possible. You can ask for the conversation or meeting to be rescheduled, and go take a walk outside. Gain some perspective. Once an argument has reached an emotional level – raised voices, tense tone, yelling, or even tears – the conversation will most likely not end in a productive matter no matter how hard you try. One or both of you is emotionally flooded and needs time to restore back to equilibrium before your objective cognitive functions are fully restored. Do not feel pressure to continue to hash anything out – you deserve a break so you can gain back your confidence and try again. If the conversation continues to end in emotional flooding – bring a third party in to help mediate.
Q: If you need to bring up a conflict with your manager, what are some tips to bring it up without sounding like you’re complaining or throwing that person under the bus?
A: Be accountable for your own role and for your own feelings. Use as many “I statements” as possible. Take responsibility for your emotions and communicate them clearly. Most likely the conflict isn’t just one persons’ responsibility – sometimes it’s a dynamic issue. So instead of using blaming language, focus more on yourself and your own feelings/thoughts/solutions so your manager can see that you aren’t playing the victim and are instead actively trying to find a suitable solution. The more information you provide about your own thought processes and working style, the easier it will be to find a resolution for everyone.