How to resolve office arguments

Disagreements can turn caustic and lead to friction and clashes. Follow these 10 tips to resolve office arguments, minus the fireworks

workplace argumentMany people struggle with learning to fight fairly. What needs to be said [and how to say it] and what not to say are just a few of the challenges facing those who can’t seem to argue appropriately.

Stating your needs without adding fuel to the fire is a relationship necessity. Here are some tools for resolving disagreements and making your interactions easier and more satisfying.

  1. Avoid verbal attacks, using bad language, and continually criticising someone. These are ways of deconstructing your connection with your team. Caustic words chip away at the foundation of your business relationships by weakening your team mates’ self-esteem and ability to see what really needs healing.What to do: If you need someone to change their ways, use solid examples along with suggestions of how you would like things to be different. Often, people are unaware of how their words can affect others and how simple changes in language can make a difference. Just making the decision to stop swearing will immediately lower the tension in your office; you’ll also be more respected.
  2. Avoid straying from the topic to avoid the conversation from disintegrating into an uncomfortable argument. Bringing up the distant past does not allow closure to the issue at hand and causes pain.What to do: Keep your conversation focused on the current problem and solve it. Once you’ve come to a conclusion, go over what was said. Making sure you are both on the same page will prevent you from having to deal with the same issue repeatedly.
  3. Try to maintain clarity, which can be difficult in case of emotional issues. When our feelings take over, we either get scared or get blinded by anger. Clamming up, sending double messages, or being evasive only frustrates both. Being open, even if you are anxious or hurt, helps resolve issues.What to do: Say what you need to in an appropriate manner to move on.
  4. Never terrorise your business associates; so many deals would be saved if one or the other person refused to devalue his or her client [or co-worker] with threats. Making inappropriate remarks are actually a way of saying to your colleagues, “I’m hiding the fear I really feel, but I sense this isn’t going to go the way I want it to.”What to do: It would be much more productive if you could honestly say, “I need some clarity, let’s chat.”
  5. If you feel like yelling, don’t. When discussions digress into yelling matches, taking a time-out [initiated by either person] is a tried-and-tested method of keeping things on track.What to do: You need to agree before hand that you will commit to completing the conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it may have become. Leaving things unfinished is an invitation to further misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
  6. Don’t interrupt people when they are sharing their feelings; it discounts what the other person is saying. By cutting him/her off you are saying, “You’re wrong, I’m right and my ideas are more important than yours.” It also causes emotional pain, as you are not listening to the other person.What to do: Instead of blurting out what you are thinking, remember your thought and share it with the other when s/he finishes what s/he has to say.
  7. Be open to disagreements. Disagreements are a part of communication and life.What to do: Acknowledging that it is okay for a teammate to have and express a differing opinion, rather than stuffing his/her feelings is a sign of a mature and nurturing business relationship. In the long run, differences can make for more interesting conversations and work. Besides, having someone agree with everything you feel can take some of the mystery out of life.
  8. Exercise your right to refuse. If either of you are not in a place to communicate when another person needs to, you have the right to say so.What to do: Politely decline but agree to have the conversation sometime within a reasonable period of time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let things go unsaid for more than a day or two.
  9. Tell it from your perspective. When something is bothering you, it is important to bring it up as your issue instead of pointing a finger at the other person.What to do: Own your emotions and use “I statements” to describe how you are feeling. This keeps things clear and allows whomever you are speaking with to hear what it is you are saying to him/her.
  10. Suggest corrective action. When you talk about how you feel using “I” statements, also give a corrective action rather than just telling people what you think they are doing wrong.What to do: Instead of saying, “You always leave the dirty work for me” say, “It bugs me when you don’t complete the projects we are working on.” Sharing your feelings in this way minimises defensiveness because you are not blaming. It will help both of you create agreements that will make your working relationship healthier and happier.If having unpleasant exchanges with co-workers or clients is the norm in your office, change the way you communicate or your chances of achieving success will be greatly diminished. Remember that communication is the most important thing in business and that we can all keep getting better at it.
Barton Goldsmith
Dr Barton Goldsmith, PhD, an award-winning and highly sought-after keynote speaker, business consultant and internationally syndicated author, has helped develop creative and balanced leadership in several Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organisations worldwide. He lives in California, USA.


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