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By: Jane E. Shersher, LSW & Founder Counselors Autonomous
How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace
A variety of conflict often arises when people work together on a project, but conflict does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. Sometimes conflict brings about positive reform as incongruities highlight better ways of achieving results. Working through the process of clashing opinions presents opportunities ripe with building relationships, learning different and potentially useful perspectives, and securing more effective ways of completing tasks.
The challenge of navigating conflict at work is a real and tricky obstacle, but here are some tips that can empower you and your coworkers the next time you face this challenge head on.
The most important piece of conflict resolution and prevention involves effective communication. If you tend to keep your feelings bottled up, odds are this is the area that needs the most TLC for you. Opening up can help your co-workers to relate to you and to understand your needs or anticipate your preferences. If you’re clenching your thoughts of anger, betrayal, or frustration, relax- you’re about to process that stuff so it doesn’t have to fester inside your brain and body. Effective communication is not just limited to face-face direct interaction. Many people avoid expressing their thoughts because they dread direct confrontation. There are however a variety of ways to express your needs without being confrontational or passive aggressive. Sending a clarifying email, asking a coworker or supervisor for advice, checking in with a trusted friend or significant other before bringing your concerns to the workplace, or redirecting the flow of an uncomfortable conversation toward a more productive direction can be helpful. Be positive: keep in mind that each time you clarify disappointment as miscommunication, you are opening up a space for constructive dialogue within your workplace and encouraging the promotion of a work environment where open, fair, and thoughtful communication is valued. Straightforward and patient communication is bound to facilitate a happier and healthier office space. Utilize your good relationships and express yourself whenever you can at work in a positive and constructive way.
2. Take a step back
Taking a step back doesn’t involve just cooling down before confronting the offending party, although a calm mind during confrontation is crucial too. Investigating alternate perspectives is an important part of positive and productive communication. Questioning whether your perspective of the conflict is universal or whether in fact your coworker may be seeing things differently than how you see the situation will help you to cool off some steam and approach the dilemma from a more patient place. Ask yourself: are there other factors of the situation that I am not taking into consideration? Is my co-worker facing unrelated factors in his/her day that are causing agitation such as family stressors or a health concern? Maybe their agitation has nothing to do with me and I could offer to help them to ease their day rather than taking things personally.
3. When is it time to take it to the next level?
No one wants to be a tattletale, but when something is negatively effecting not only your work but your work environment as a whole, sometimes it is time to escalate the issue up the chain of command. Before going to your superior or HR representative, ask yourself the following questions:
– Have I had a one-on-one conversation or email exchange with the person and accurately communicated my feelings and/or concerns?
– Is this conflict going to negatively effect either of us or other members of the work environment? And if so is it worth seeking intervention for my current issue?
– Have I stepped outside of my shoes and tried to see things from the other person’s perspective yet?
– Have I heard my offender’s side of the story and have I done all in my power to make changes to avoid future conflict?
4. Remember yourself
It is important to remember that at the end of the day, we are all still human, working for something we care about, and trying to make a living. Remember that you’re doing the best that you can and that conflict is not only inevitable, it’s a constant learning process. The world is a large place filled with many different kinds of people, and conflict is how we learn and grow. If conflict starts to seriously affect your mood and work ability, reward yourself every day that you make it through the conflict- whether it be by sleeping in an extra five minutes, bringing a healthy dessert for lunch, or making a lunch date with a friend to add a little spark to your day. Be patient with yourself and with the process of creating constructive and productive peace and progress at work.