Dealing with conflict at work

We were delighted to be joined by Amy Gallo, contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and author of their Guide to Dealing with Conflict. Amy’s talk combined the latest management research with practical insights to deliver evidence-based advice on difficult conversations, collaborative relationships and negotiations for women at work.

We found Amy’s discussion entertaining and full of practical advice – now to put her tips into practice! Don’t forget to check out further advice from Amy on HBR’s Women at Work podcast.

Here are our key takeaways from the talk:

  1. Too often conflict feels like a threat. We go into fight or flight mode and react with gut instinct rather than considering. Therefore we tend to avoid discussions
  2. Women tend to shy away from negotiation because we are penalised for doing so. Societal expectations of how women should behave are the opposite of how we expect leaders to behave. This double bind is difficult to navigate
  3. Disagreement does not have to be unkind. We get artificial harmony in many workplaces from not dealing with conflict.
  4. Address conflict with kindness and compassion. Try to be thoughtful and caring about other people.
  5. People generally fall into two categories: conflict avoiders or seekers. Avoiders value harmony whilst seekers lean in or create conflict because they value directness and honesty.
  6. Step to analyse a conflict:
  • Understand your counterpart. Think about what the other person is going through. Try to give them the most generous possible scenario to unhook your own bias and to be more open to hearing their perspective.
  • Identify the type of conflict. There are four types at work; relationship; task; process; status – they rarely fall into one category, separate them into each category and then identify the most appropriate solution.
  • Determine your goal. It will help you decide how to tackle the conflict. An overlapping goal makes it far easier to solve the conflict. Think about the business/relationship perspective.

7. Options for handling conflict:

  • Do nothing – in certain scenarios its best to walk away. If you do nothing you have to truly let go
  • Address indirectly (use a metaphor or a depersonalised anecdote);
  • Address directly (Amy’s recommended option if possible)
  • Exit the relationship – not recommended unless it’s paramount to your own wellbeing

8. Buy yourself some time; walk away, particularly if tensions are high; say you need a break. But don’t suggest how other people feel.

9. Don’t have these conversions over email – it does not convey the same emotion that an over the phone or in-person discussion can.

10. Manage your emotions; stay genuinely curious; label your feelings; breath; anchoring.

11. Open the conversation with a question – makes it collaborative and easier to see if you have an overlapping goal.

Final thoughts: What is one way that you behave in a conflict that you’d like to change? Remember you cannot change another person! Try to focus on what you like about that person and manage your own emotions.

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