Conflict at work is normal. C'mon, everyone say it with me, "Conflict at work is normal." Good.
Conflict resolution is an underrated professional asset. The way you go about it, or not, affects your colleagues' perceptions of you. That can either improve or compromise your work life. About 30 years in the workforce and having learned quite a bit about emotional intelligence and diversity and inclusion tells me we have to consider why conflict happens in the first place. In the workplace, we have a rich diversity of personalities, work habits and styles, lifestyles, people skills, and moral and ethical values.
Problems start, and persist, when you don't know how to handle conflict. It's difficult in the workplace; because on one end of the spectrum, there are those who want uninterrupted harmony and on the other end are colleagues who come to work in "Game of Thrones" mode...every...damn...day.
Your personal brand, your identity and value, can be significantly affected by how you approach conflict resolution. If you want rainbows coming out of everyone's pores and get flustered at the slightest hint of conflict, you may not be respected by your colleagues even if they like you. If you walk in ready to chop heads off, you can't be trusted to lend to a productive work environment.
So, how do we get this conflict resolution thing done?
Think like a leader. What if you ran the business or organization? You have to monitor your product or service, its sales and/or performance, make sure your employees are getting paid, make sure your leaders are doing their jobs to keep the business going, etc. How much time would you want to dedicate to one-on-one conflicts? I'm not saying you shouldn't care; I'm saying that there you would have so many priorities that certain levels of conflict resolution would only get in the way of your bigger responsibilities. Thinking like a leader will help you determine which conflicts are not worth your time.
Learn how to communicate effectively. I say this time and time again, as a recruiter. Communication is the most underrated skill in the workplace and it is a critical part of your personal brand. What helps is understanding how you manage the communication process in order to get to the bottom of issues. Leadership expert Mark Murphy suggests that people have four communication styles: analytical, intuitive, functional, and personal. Knowing how you relay information can also help you understand how others communicate thereby giving you a valuable tool to help resolve conflicts.
Exercise intellectual curiosity. My wife, Halima, is very thoughtful. Her ability to manage her emotions enough to ask important questions about people's behavior amazes me. So, credit her with this point. What you find out may bring forth sympathy, empathy, or understanding. Who knows? Learning about your colleague's background, lifestyle or beliefs may open your mind a little even if you still don't understand or agree with it. You will also add a new dimension of diversity and inclusion to your personal brand.
Know that it's okay to walk away. This is the hardest thing for so many of us to do. Just know that walking away doesn't mean giving up; it gives you a chance to figure out solutions. The American Psychological Association suggests the old strategy of counting to 10 to give the brain a chance to reset. Has an email gotten under your skin? Shut it down until you're calm enough to resolve the conflict rationally.
Use common interests. Maybe you and the colleague with whom you have a conflict share a favorite sports team, hobby, hometown, or college alma mater. Common interests give your emotions a chance to flow in the same direction in the midst of conflict. Heck, you may find that you have similar personal brands.
Get decision-makers involved. If you seem to be at an impasse, it might be time to get a mediator with some sort of authority involved. Honestly, it could boost your personal brand to be the one who suggests the move.
Remove yourself from the environment. Let's be real. You could look for another job but that may not be practical. You may love your job; but have issues with other people doing the same work, especially if they don't respect the job or the field the way you do. Maybe part of the issue is burnout and it would benefit you to take a day or two off. Take a few minutes longer on lunch, if possible. At the very least, take full advantage of your time away from the environment. Just like walking away, it gives your brain a chance to reset, so you can engage in conflict resolution productively.
Keep in mind that we spend most of our time at work, so actively working on conflict resolution is of the utmost importance. It's not a skill you learn in one sitting, it takes time. The better you get at it, however, the stronger your personal brand will be as a trusted professional.