Conflicts between coworkers are normal: When you have multiple people collaborating on something, disagreements are bound to arise. In some cases, workplace conflicts can end up being helpful, as it gives colleagues a chance to hash out issues that have come up, and may even lead to a solution that works better for everyone.
But that’s not always the case. Sometimes these disagreements can get heated — especially if office politics is involved. If you encounter coworkers in the midst of a tense or even hostile situation — or are involved in one yourself — here are a few de-escalation techniques that might be useful.
How to de-escalate conflicts at work
Give one (or all) of these strategies a try the next time you’re involved in a workplace conflict:
Pay attention to your body language
If you feel as though you have to defend yourself, you may unknowingly adopt a more aggressive stance and body language than usual, but try your best to avoid it. Maintain a neutral facial expression, and keep your hands in front of your body in an open, relaxed position. Avoid crossing your arms, shrugging, and (literal) finger-pointing.
Understand your conflict style
According to Amy Gallo, an expert in workplace communication, most people approach conflict either as an “avoider” (staying away from it at all costs) or a “seeker” (appreciating brutal honesty and a robust debate).
De-escalating a conflict at work involves knowing which type you are, and then doing your best to go against your instincts. For avoiders, she says this means speaking up, even if it’s hard. For seekers, this means taking a step back, and focusing on listening rather than speaking.
Listen, then respond
When someone is saying something we disagree with — especially if it directly involves us — there’s the temptation to jump in and defend ourselves, responding to each and every one of their claims or accusations. But that’s unlikely to make anything better, and, in fact, will probably aggravate the person you’re interrupting. Instead, let them finish what they have to say, and then respond accordingly.
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