3 Ways to Handle Conflict at Work

How do you manage frustration at work – from feeling stressed and overworked to handling a conflict with your boss?

The other day, I walked into my boss’ office and handed him an outline of a big project I was leading. I started talking through it, but about five minutes into the conversation, his face fell.

He was expecting something else; meanwhile I’d spent a lot of time putting that outline together. We clearly had a misunderstanding on the deliverable, and we were both irritated.

As I faced our misunderstanding and each of our frustrations, I realized I had a choice. (1) I could take it personally and feel resentful, (2) I could apologize profusely and take full responsibility, (3) or I could focus on the solution.

I focused on the solution.

And I’m glad I did because I left the meeting feeling good about my relationship with my boss, and even more importantly feeling good about myself. (Of course, how you manage the conflict should also depend on your situation, including your boss’ reaction and/or how responsible you are for the misunderstanding.)

Here are three three ways to successfully manage conflict at work.

Don’t Take it Personally

If you’re a hard worker you likely devote a lot of time and attention to your work. You’re also great at following instructions, leading projects and you often deliver before deadline, right?

So, when the boss isn’t happy, maybe you’re quick to blame.

“You gave me the wrong instructions.” Or,

“Your managing style is confusing me.”

This accomplishes nothing. It’s a waste of time because all we’re doing here is living in the negative. Don’t take the disappointment personally. It’s likely your boss has a lot on her plate and is solely focused on the end result.

Rather than focus on what you did right and what she did wrong, identify the end goal. What do you need to do to push the work forward? Let that be your guide.

Be Yourself

We all have a different way of communicating. Some of us are loud and expressive, others are more laid back.

But how often are we ourselves in a work-setting?

Personally, I’ve spent way too many meetings in the past worrying about “how I look.”

Conversely, when I’m engaged in a passionate conversation with family or close friends, I’m thoughtful but also loud and more expressive. I’m comfortable in this setting and not second guessing how I’m coming off.

The result?

  1. I’m sharing new ideas. We all have a voice and we should use it.  
  2. I learn something new. Like I’m challenging those close to me, I’m also allowing them to challenge me and to open up my mind to new ideas.
  3. Despite any disagreements, we still love each other in the end.  

Why don’t we do this more at work (especially women)? For women, the fear of appearing overly aggressive and bitchy can play a role. And of course the way others perceive us can impact our career trajectory.

But if you have a strong-enough relationship with your boss, and sexism isn’t an issue, I encourage you to be yourself. You’ll feel more empowered because you’ll be operating from an authentic place.

Get Closure

Recapping your conversation and having clear action items is key for any and all business meetings, but after you’ve gone through the misunderstanding and likely a heated discussion, recap your conversation. What’s the deliverable now?

Then address where the miscommunication happened so you can both learn from it. Your boss (assuming she’s a kind human) will want to know how to avoid this in the future because her goal = progress.

Furthermore, if anything bothered you during the heated conversation (e.g. in the heat of the moment your boss made a comment that triggered you), call it out.

If you don’t, her response to you may linger and fester, and this can erode team morale.

In Conclusion: To Handle Conflict at Work

It’s possible to work through a heated, awkward discussion at work in a way that’s empowering. It takes building confidence in yourself and leadership skills. Here is a thorough list of resources that will help you develop a leadership mindset. CLICK HERE to get it. 

Overall, don’t take the situation personally because you’re all there for the same reason – to accomplish a goal and get the work done. Do communicate like your true self so that you can feel in the zone and feel empowered. And do highlight where the miscommunication happened so you can learn from it.

Download this list of resources to get started on building greater leadership skills, and let us know in the comments: Have you had to deal with conflict at work? How did you handle it?