Disagreements over ideas can easily turn into arguments, especially in competitive work environments where everyone’s mindset is that they need to prove themselves with every opportunity. Avoiding conflict should always be the main priority during tense situations since work-related conflicts can be difficult to navigate even for the best communicators.
We put together a small but powerful list of strategies you can use when things are getting heated and risk degenerating into conflict. Here are some of the things you can do to maintain peaceful and respectful communication.
Wait for the right time
Sometimes timing is everything. You wouldn’t ask your boss for a raise right after the company lost its biggest contract. As a leader, you have to apply the same rule. Don’t talk to your employees and don’t call meetings right after you have received bad news or had something bad happen at work.
Harvard researchers claim that angry people are quick to throw blame instead of analyzing the situation and rely on cognitive shortcuts that are not very reliable.
As a measure to curb the effects of anger over decision-making, companies should introduce accountability. If people expect to be held accountable for their decisions and explain what made them choose that course of action, they are less likely to allow anger or other emotional factors to influence their decisions. Hence, more accountability and less arguments.
When conflict arises within a team, people often have a hard time communicating dissenting opinions without invalidating each other. Those on opposite sides of a debate often fail to listen to each other and throw counterarguments without actually considering one another’s arguments.
Things can get even more heated if they get to a personal level and start referring to each other’s experience or competence. That is something you should avoid at all costs. Never let a work conflict degenerate to a point where people are attacking each other in a personal manner. Even if you think that the other person has less experience than you or the matter discussed is slightly out of their area of competence, avoid saying something that would discredit, invalidate, or hurt them. Remember you are discussing the idea, not the person.
Most importantly, you need to acknowledge that every unique point of view brings value to the team and it’s worth thinking through instead of dismissing it.
Choose your words
We all know how important is to choose our words during a heated argument and not say things we can’t take back. In order to avoid a possible argument, you need to show those with a different perspective that you value and acknowledge their point of view.
So, instead of dismissing their arguments and trying to impose your thoughts no matter what, you should use some phrases that show consideration while smoothly introducing your perspective. Here are a few examples:
- “Thank you for bringing this up. My concerns about this issue are…”
- “I think you’re making an important point here. It’s definitely worth discussing, so let me tell you my thoughts on that.”
- “I understand your concerns about the matter, however let’s make sure you understood my perspective…”
- “What you are saying is…; is that correct? Then allow me to explain why I think we should take another approach…”
By phrasing your concerns like this you will validate the other persons and make them feel heard while making your thoughts clear. It will start a productive debate instead of an argument and will help your team build each other up instead of tearing each other down.
Remember your purpose
When debating within the team, it’s easy for people to lose track of their main goal: to build something better together. Work disagreements should never be about proving you are smarter than others or making them look bad. The main purpose is finding the best solution for a current problem you are all facing.
If your team is prone to often heated arguments, you should appoint a referee who should break things up by reminding people that they are on the same page. There are no winners or losers, everyone is equal, and all viewpoints are welcome. Debates should be productive and steer the team in the right direction, towards the common goal.
Learn to compromise
Not everything will go the way you want it or expect it to go but that doesn’t have to be seen as a loss. Nobody is right 100 percent of the time, but most people have a very hard time admitting they are wrong. That is due to the fear that they might seem less intelligent or lose the respect of their peers. However, that is more likely to happen by acting the opposite way, as a know-it-all who never admits their flaws.
By hearing other perspectives you might actually get to see things in a new light or even learn something new. By all means, you should consider that a win.
Choose your battles
Some things are just not worth becoming an issue. Before jumping into an argument, take a moment to ask yourself if that’s actually important. Do you really care about that issue? Why is it important to you? Is it personal preference or you truly believe that accepting the opposite idea would hurt the project?
If your answer to these questions is rather negative, your idea might not be worth fighting for. Save yourself and everyone else precious time and energy and just let it go. Besides that, you have more chances of getting others to support the ideas you really care about if you let them have it their way on issues that are just not as important to you.
Respect to be respected
In the end, it all comes down to a single concept: respect. As all major philosophies put it in different words, treat others the way you would like to be treated.
If you don’t like having your ideas dismissed, don’t do that to your teammates. If you hate having your ego hurt and your competence questioned, refrain from doing that to your coworkers. If you expect validation and being treated as an equal by everyone else, you should definitely do the same for them.
Apply Gandhi’s mantra to your company’s micro-environment and be the change you want to see at work.