5 Reasons to Stop Avoiding Conflict at Work

Addressing conflict at work can be tricky. On the one hand, there’s nowhere to run in an uncomfortable situation. You’ll still see your co-workers tomorrow (or on Monday). On the other hand (and the one we’ll argue here), avoiding conflict can be incredibly damaging to professional relationships and productivity, and even impact your career trajectory in the long term.

So if you’re facing a difficult situation with colleagues, read on for a few reasons why you should confront the issue head-on.

1. Unaddressed issues can cause strained communication

No doubt letting something fester can lead to unnecessary tensions, if not an entire breakdown in communication. Despite how much you tell yourself that it’s better not to cause a scene, some situations truly need to be addressed—and the team won’t be able to move forward until they are.

That said, it’s also important to be judicious about which situations you tackle head-on. You also don’t want to be the team member always causing problems, so pick your battles. Think about how much stress the unaddressed issue is causing you, and do your best to get a sense of what the other person (or people) feels about it to gauge whether it’s worth surfacing.

2. Teamwork becomes less effective when everyone is walking on eggshells

As a result of strained communication, teams often become less effective, spending time talking their way around an issue rather than actually getting work done. The opinions, feelings, and trade-offs usually made by the group as a collective become individual decisions, not only creating a barrier to communication but also impacting the team’s output. Worst case scenario, animosity begins to build between colleagues, creating an even bigger issue than before.

3. Your company can suffer as a result of unresolved conflict at work

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to prove that strained communication and ineffective teamwork can harm a company, from negatively impacting the customer experience to causing high rates of employee churn. Instead, take the opportunity to step up and surface critical issues—your manager, team, and other employees (whether they know it or not) will appreciate it.

4. Confronting conflict at work can help build stronger relationships

Tackling conflict can also help you on a personal level. When you confront a colleague about an issue, you effectively re-open the communication channels—the first step to not only coming to a resolution in that particular instance but also creating a process for future issues that arise—and thus building a more trusting relationship.

Think about it this way: If you never address an issue, you’ll never know what the outcome would have been—and you might always hold a grudge against that colleague (or colleagues) for a misunderstanding. In addition to putting stress on your relationship(s), this unknown can also create unnecessary stress for you—a true lose-lose situation.

5. Practicing conflict resolution can help build your confidence

Lacking the confidence to step up and say something is a common reason that people leave problems unaddressed (both in and outside of the workplace). Don’t trick yourself into believing that there’s nothing you can do about a conflict, or that your colleague is actually justified in his or her actions just because you’d rather not approach them.

Related: 8 Different Types of Company Culture that Exist Today

How to address conflict at work with a colleague

Take the high road by remaining calm

The easiest thing to do when facing conflict at work is to get flustered and lash out. But staying calm can assert your dominance and earn you respect from other parties involved. Unless you’re consciously using anger to trigger an action from the other person (which can be a legitimate strategy when thought through beforehand), do your best to keep your emotions under control.

Seek outside perspectives

Chances are, many people in your close network have experienced similar situations. They may at least have an opinion to share about how best to approach it. To be sure, don’t become the office gossip by complaining about the circumstances.

Use your best judgment to speak with trusted colleagues who have also interacted with the person. In addition, close friends and family can provide a sounding board for your complaints and ideas about the best way forward. Once you have a few opinions, triangulate them with your own thoughts to come up with a plan of action.

Provide context and explain your intentions

Both you and the difficult colleague will likely hold opinions of the other. If working together has been tough, they may not be the best opinions. To avoid either of you jumping to conclusions, try to have an honest conversation about the reasoning behind your actions so that you can both understand where the other is coming from.

In addition to increasing the chances that your colleague is more sympathetic once they understand your stance, getting a better sense of their motivations can help you to find a way forward that both parties are satisfied with.

Focus on actions

Rather than harping on past events, work together to come up with actions that can be taken to help you work more effectively together in the future. Coming to a common agreement with concrete actions will focus the conversation and help you to sidestep potential arguments. It also gives you both a measurable way to gauge whether the situation improves in the future.

Escalate selectively

If you’ve exhausted your other options, it may make sense to escalate to your manager. Their actions can have more of an impact than you could achieve alone. If you decide this is the best way forward, follow the above pieces of advice in approaching your manager. Remaining calm and explaining your position logically strengthens your stance and lends credibility to your argument.

Confidently face conflict at work

Speaking up and surfacing the issue will ultimately build your confidence in your own convictions and ability to problem-solve with colleagues. The next time there’s an issue, you’ll confidently surface the problem more quickly so that you can move forward with the appropriate solution and get back on track.