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How to Handle Conflict with a Peer at Work

How you approach a work colleague about an ongoing conflict depends on a number of factors. Take into consideration how well you know her, how often you interact, and how important the working relationship is to you.

On the surface, it may seem easy enough to treat an equal like an equal, but when you’re angry or frustrated, not building armies (coalitions) or creating competitive situations around personal conflicts with another manager can be tough. For the good of your own career aspirations, resist the urge to one-up a peer or compete for the limelight; instead, work to keep a level playing field as much as possible.

Respecting a peer’s position

Companies benefit from having dissimilar managers who bring with them a multitude of work and life experiences, varying lengths of service, different educational backgrounds, and a variety of communication styles. Give her a little latitude by going into a one-on-one conflict discussion with an open mind about her actions and the motivations behind them. She may be protecting her flock just as you’re safeguarding yours. Respect her priorities, the pressures of her job, and any deadlines she may have looming, and carve out an adequate amount of time to address fully whatever problems you’re having.

Even though you’re a manager, you’re not her manager. Be mindful of the tone you take, and err on the side of using the same decorum you would use with a superior. If she’s in management now, there’s always the chance she’ll one day manage you, so think beyond your current problems and consider who or where she’ll be tomorrow.

Preserving the working relationship

If you share the same grade level or sit on the same dotted line on the organizational chart but don’t know the other manager well enough to talk with her on an ongoing basis, or if you merely think of her as someone you have to tolerate once or twice a year, you may choose not to bother approaching her with a formal mediation process over a minor disconnect.

If you know your peer well, the issues may be easy to address and the two of you can get back on track, keeping your professional relationship undamaged before anyone is the wiser. Having a discussion with someone you consider a friend may actually be tougher — but rest assured that addressing conflict and keeping friendships aren’t mutually exclusive. The level of respect you’re willing to give her, the amount of interest you show in her proposed solutions, and your combined abilities to tackle the problem without personally destroying each other will serve as an excellent example for your respective teams.

You may need to consider if the topics at hand are ones your peer can even affect. If the two of you decide it’s really out of your hands, at the very least express your interest in keeping — and growing — a working relationship with her. That way, when a problem arises that you do have some control over, you’ve set the groundwork to address it with each other without letting it escalate. Similarly, if she can control something and chooses not to (even after your openness to partner with her on solutions), you may need to change the way you interact with her instead of asking her to change her behavior. Your reputation will be better for it.

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