Sure as friction makes fire, you know it’s hard to stay cool when conflict breaks out — especially in manufacturing and logistics environments that are often hot already. But losing your cool and taking the wrong approach to conflict resolution can make things worse. It can even get you fired.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help you take the trauma out of workplace drama. Whether you’re struggling to resolve a conflict with a coworker on the line or your manager on the shift, Randstad has you covered. Read on for smart strategies to help you effectively resolve conflict, communicate and reach positive outcomes.

conflict comes in two types

Before we get into specific strategies for resolving conflict, it’s useful to understand that there are different types of workplace conflict. The two primary varieties are relationship conflict or performance conflict. So what’s the difference?

  • Relationship conflict typically results when people with different personalities, perspectives or approaches to communication are forced to work together. However, it can also result when relatively simple misunderstandings occur between coworkers who ordinarily get along well. Whatever the underlying cause, relationship conflict makes it difficult for teams to function, as emotions — and temperatures — run high. 
  • Performance conflict is the result of expectations not being met, either on the side of the employee or the employer. Have you ever had coworkers who you felt weren’t pulling their weight? How about a supervisor who set unrealistic deadlines? Performance conflict is the realm of blame and finger-pointing, and it can be a huge source of frustration on all sides. It’s hard to complete work on time and in a satisfactory manner when parties don’t see eye-to-eye.

Identifying the type of conflict you’re involved in is an important first step. It allows you to clearly isolate the root cause of the problem — and it’s difficult to solve any problem when you don’t know its cause.

resolving conflict with coworkers

When tempers reach a fever pitch, finding a level-headed solution may seem impossible. And that’s only natural. While it’s important to deal with conflict as soon as possible, so as not to let issues fester, you should also take a few minutes to simply cool off. Walk around, or have a sip of water. Avoid disrespectful language as that will only increase the hostility of the situation. When you’re ready to talk, the following steps will help you and your coworker navigate the rocky road from “no” to “yes.”

  • Ask yourself if this is primarily a relationship conflict or a performance conflict. If it’s a relationship conflict, you’ll need to approach the conversation with patience, respect and empathy for your coworker. If it’s a performance conflict, see if you can think of systems or processes that might help prevent the issue from occurring in the future. 
  • Listen carefully to your coworker. If possible, have another employee serve as a moderator, who can signal when it’s your time to speak and when it’s your time to listen. This is especially helpful if the language becomes harsh. Trying to talk over one another just escalates to shouting, which is no way to keep your cool. 
  • Cursing, name-calling and speaking disrespectfully to one another will make it impossible to resolve conflict. When it’s your turn to speak, zero-in on concrete events and behaviors, not personality. Think hard about what happened to get you into the situation, then try to put that into words. Don’t generalize. One trick is to use phrases that emphasize material actions and events — for instance, “When this happened, I responded by…” Avoid putting any stress on the personality of your coworker. Phrases like “The way you…” can make people feel like they’re being attacked. 
  • After you’ve both given your accounts of what happened, try to pinpoint areas where you agree or disagree, and summarize these to one another. Areas of agreement are key to finding a way forward, but areas of disagreement need to be ironed out for the solution to stick. Try to go back and forth, discussing your summary of what happened — and making compromises when necessary — until you are in alignment. 
  • Now that you see things eye to eye, move on to prioritizing the causes of the conflict. This is a great chance to think strategically about processes and workflows, where small tweaks can make a big difference. In some manufacturing environments, for instance, there is competition for machine time between production workers, who want to use the machines to make throughput, and maintenance workers, who want to use the machines to perform needed repairs. In instances like this, smarter scheduling arrangements can nip the problem in the bud. 
  • If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! That took courage and patience. Now, you’ll just need to agree on a plan and how to implement it. Finally, it’s a good move to notify HR or your manager of the dispute and to explain in detail your shared plan to reduce it going forward. Securing their buy-in not only helps ensure the success of your plan, it also makes you look like a proactive, outcome-oriented leader in the eyes of management.

resolving conflict with a manager

Experiencing conflict with your manager often feels like a tightrope to walk, as one serious slip carries the risk of being fired. In fact, at most organizations, the playbook for how managers should handle problems with employee goes something like:

  1. Talk to the employee about the issue. 
  2. If the issue persists, follow up with verbal or written warning (with documentation). 
  3. If the issue still persists, move to a final warning, suspension or termination.

Fortunately, with a solid conflict management strategy in place, steps two and three should never enter the picture. Use the following guidelines and you’ll never strike out.

  • First, ask yourself if this is primarily a relationship conflict or a performance conflict. For starters, understanding the conflict in these terms should help you overcome a “me-versus-my-boss” attitude. Relationship conflicts can be tricky, but try to see things from your manager’s perspective, and ask your manager to do the same. If it’s a performance conflict, make sure you understand what is expected of you, and be clear about any obstacles that are keeping your from hitting your goals. 
  • Second, bear in mind that your manager really does want to work this situation out. Hiring, training and onboarding are expensive, and retention is commonly used as a metric to evaluate a manager’’ performance. So be sensitive to the fact that you both want a positive working relationship. You have a lot of common ground. 
  • Language matters. As when dealing with conflict with coworkers, you’ll need to be precise. Try to describe concrete events and behaviors. Avoid language that relates to your boss’s personality. You’re a professional, you’re here to meet with another professional in order to resolve a professional problem and your language and outlook should align with those facts, period. 
  • Finally, the goal is to arrive at a solution that is mutually acceptable. So, once you’ve discussed what happened, shift the conversation to expectations. What will change going forward? Make sure you clearly understand the steps you and your manager plan to take to get the relationship back on track — and set up a future date to review your progress toward this goal. Beware that any lack of clarity about expectations is a guarantee that problems will persist.

It’s only natural for conflict to arise at work, but effectively resolving it is what counts. By following these steps, you’ll be ready not only to better cope with these challenges but also to take corrective actions that could make you shine in the eyes of your boss.

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