How to Handle Workplace Conflict

July 23, 2019
Whitney J. Palmer

The steps you should take to handle that bad coworker.

No matter how calm your office culture is, it’s nearly inevitable that disagreements will arise at some point. It’s important to address these problems when they pop up instead of sweeping them aside.

Knowing how to effectively manage any workplace conflict can help keep your team on track and ensure you’re providing the best patient care possible. During this year’s AHRA: The Association of Medical Imaging Management annual meeting, Mario Rodriguez, leadership consultant with Integrated Leadership Systems, discussed the importance of addressing workplace disagreements, as well as tactics to settle problems successfully.

“Conflict in the workplace can tear teams apart,” he says. “When there’s conflict in the workplace, the sense of reactive emotions can result in anxiety and certain fears that aren’t good for productivity or a high level of performance.”

Related article: 6 Ways to Deal with Bad Co-Workers

Ignoring workplace conflict creates a slippery slope that results not only in reduced productivity and lower morale, but it can also impact your bottom line.

Overall, he says, there are five ways to face any problems that come up.

  • Figure out why you might be averse to conflict. Fear of rejection keeps many people from facing disagreements head-on, he says. The desire to be a people-pleaser and not upset the waters can be very strong, or some people might want to avoid conflicts due to past problems in their personal histories. Identifying what’s holding you back from addressing current issues can help you resolve the problems.

  • Don’t wait until a conflict actually happens to start talking about dissolving arguments. Instead, Rodriguez says, practice conversations designed to dismantle conflict. Walk through the discussion, remembering to stay calm and focused.

  • Be assertive when you address a problem. Don’t be passive-aggressive. A simple three-step process can help you pointedly and respectfully address potential conflicts. To be successful, he says, you should describe the problem simply, explain clearly how it makes you feel, and, then, outline the changes you’d like to see. For example, if someone is habitually late to staff meetings, detail how that behavior negatively affects the rest of the office, and request that he or she begin arriving on time.

  • Control your negative thoughts and emotions when attempting to resolve a conflict. Many people struggle with conflict because they don’t know how to most effectively respond when having a face-to-face conversation about the topic. Stay level-headed and focused on the specific issue at hand.

  • Don’t avoid the problem just because you’re uncomfortable. Everyone loses if you side-step the problem. Instead, work toward collaborating with your colleagues, try to accommodate legitimate requests and compromise where you can. If you’re successful, doing so creates a win-win solution.

Ultimately, he says, becoming fluent in conflict management takes time and practice. Being successful requires self-awareness and a hands-on approach to addressing uncomfortable issues.

“You must have courage to confront and communicate through conflict,” Rodriguez says. “If conflict isn’t handled in the workplace in a meaningful way, it’s not good for morale or productivity. At the end of the day, you have to lean into the practice.”