two people hands on desk mad at each other face-to-face

De-escalating Conflict in the Workplace

Just like it sounds, de-escalation is a mode of behavior used to prevent the escalation of conflicts. While it seems counter-intuitive to think that someone would like to escalate conflict, sometimes people commit to behaviors that worsen conflict, whether consciously or not. However, you can avoid going tit-for-tat when someone takes things up a notch.

To understand de-escalation, it is important to understand conflict and behavior that promotes it. Let’s start the bad news: your co-workers are here to stay. There’s no replacing Karen in accounting with a Roomba; Chad in HR is better at his job than your smart TV, no matter how smart it is. So, even if they always seem to make your blood pressure spike, working together is the only option available when the alternative is to not work at all.

People experience a wide range of emotions. A good day for you might be fraught with frustration and anxiety for your co-worker. Navigating these emotions and the conflicts that can result may seem daunting without the proper tools and training. But by employing the right tactics, you can find out how to work together and de-escalate any conflict that you encounter.

Conflict in the Workplace

Teamwork is critical to productivity and success. It would be much easier if we could handle all of our tasks and problems on our own, but we often have to rely on others to help. Naturally, when working with other people, opinions are going to differ, distinct work styles will clash, and knowledge and skillsets will vary. While these differences may cause conflict, this should not be discouraging.

Conflict can be unavoidable, but being prepared for it can make all the difference. Handling conflict effectively will help you avoid increased tensions that result in serious consequences. Here are some tips on doing just that:

Don’t keep things to yourself. If you keep things bottled up, tension and anxiety will increase. If no one is talking, no one will be able to find a solution to your conflict. By speaking up and addressing what is stressful or causing conflict, you are opening lines of communication. This allows for individuals or teams to come together and work toward a common solution.

Avoid being defensive. It’s easy to want to defend yourself when there is conflict, especially if you feel that you are being attacked. It’s important to remember in these situations that there may be a middle ground to be had by listening to another’s point of view. By getting defensive, you may be sending signals to others that they are not being heard, which may only escalate the situation.

Avoid overgeneralizations. Making statements that generalize, like “you always…” and “you never…” can be antagonistic and miss the point. They occur when you allow your emotions to enter the discussion.

Work to see both sides. While there are things in this world that are black and white, there is even more that can’t be chalked up to a “right or wrong way.” People come from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences. By being able to see the perspective of others, you put yourself in the position to cooperate and come to a solution that benefits both parties by meeting in the middle.

Avoid the worst. Avoid the need to be right, and steer clear of attacking someone’s character. This includes avoiding blaming any one party. Also avoid stonewalling. Listen to others’ complaints and validate them. They have concerns for a reason; by ignoring or invalidating others you are showing that you don’t care about their opinion. So, why should they care about yours?

Conflict with Customers

Conflict can intensify even beyond your relationships with co-workers. Some of our members work directly with the public, and during times like these, you might find yourself dealing with a slew of unhappy customers griping about their water bill or their rec membership. When you experience conflict with a customer, there are a few different ways to handle the situation.

Dealing with customers presents an advantage over dealing with co-workers, given that you don’t usually work with customers on a daily basis. Still, the same tactics can be used, but in a more straightforward and abbreviated way.

Adjusting your perspective to understand why a customer is upset or issuing a complaint will be the first step to setting yourself up to resolve the conflict. Next, make sure to listen to their concerns. They are voicing them to you for a reason. Then, repeat their concerns back to them. This shows that you have listened to them and understand what they are saying to you.

After that, it can be beneficial to be empathetic and apologize. Validate their concerns, and say that you can understand (or at least you are trying to understand) why they are upset. From there, present a solution. This is where you can lay out what options are available. Think of this as a compromise. Listen to their response, and work together to approach a solution.

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