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Ways to Respond to Conflict Between Coworkers

People react to and manage conflict at work very differently. Three people in the same situation may have three distinctly different reactions. And to make matters more complex, not only do people act differently in workplace conflict, but the same person may respond one way in one situation and react another way in a different situation. How someone reacts can depend on the kind of conflict she’s in, who the conflict is with, where the person is, and whether the issue is personal or professional. For instance, how you handle conflict with your spouse can be completely different than how you handle conflict with a co-worker.

Methods for managing conflict vary from person to person and situation to situation. Each method has its own distinct benefits when used in the right situations. Following are some common conflict management styles that people in your department may use and hints on how you can address them.

  • Giving in: This technique simply lets people have what they want. When someone who tends to give in finds herself in conflict, she’s prone to sacrifice her own opinions or requests just to keep the peace.

  • Avoiding the fight: This is the “flight” portion of the old adage “fight or flight.” Rather than deal with the conflict, this person would rather avoid it altogether. She has a fairly low tolerance for conflict and places a high importance on safety and comfort.

  • Fighting it out: These employees have no problem standing up for themselves. They’re aggressive when confronted with conflict, and they may be the ones who start it in the first place. They may even view conflict as a game, and they enjoy competition because it’s an opportunity to win. They’re comfortable arguing and are persistent in fighting for what they think is right.

  • Compromising: If you have a compromiser working for you, you’ll notice that she isn’t afraid of conflict but that she doesn’t like to spend a lot of time on it, either. Conflict is a bother to her, a distraction from the real work that needs to get done. She tends to look for a quick and fair resolution. She’s the first to suggest splitting a disputed dollar amount right down the middle, or she may support a proposal that gives everyone a little of what they want.

  • Working together: Some people really enjoy working with others. In all aspects of their lives, they’d rather work or interact with people than be alone. As employees, they’re very social and enjoy a good, thorough conversation. You may notice that they seek out the opinions of others when making decisions and often get into long discussions with colleagues because they enjoy collaborating and sharing ideas. They approach conflict in a similar way — they want to work through the conflict by discussing all the possible solutions, looking for the perfect answer.

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