coworkers arguing

The workplace can be a stressful environment. Many factors contribute to this stress: how tasks are designed, management style, work roles, career concerns, and environmental factors. One of the most common stressful aspects of the work environment involves interpersonal relationships with fellow workers.

Not everyone is going to get along, but the workplace should not be a battlefield. Personal conflicts between co-workers can be both a cause and product of stress. As a result, this conflict creates a cycle of increasing stress. Allowing conflicts to build and intensify will only further impair the work environment.

“By understanding the issue and taking positive action, you can help solve the problem and make your office a place where you really want to be,” writes Susan Lankton-Rivas, a practice leader at Insight Performance Inc.

Here are Lankton-Rivas’s eight tips for effectively handling conflict:

1. Approach with an open mind.

“Different people have different perceptions, and solving workplace conflicts requires finding a common ground, not waiting until one person caves to the other. Try to understand the other person’s point of view and how he or she arrived at it.”

Often people approach with fear — fear of looking foolish, fear of losing, fear of showing weakness. If you can let go of your fear and frustration, then you can start dealing with the situation without the messy emotional entanglements.

2. Consider the cause.

“Take an objective look at yourself and determine what you did or said to contribute to the situation. Try to empathize with the other person and consider how the situation could be handled differently in the future.”

What happened, happened. There’s no changing the initial conflict. But you can take this moment as an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t become a habit at the workplace.

3. Be respectful of differences.

“Workplaces are diverse places, today more than ever, and what is acceptable to one person may be offensive to another. If your office has a diversity program, consider attending it, and if it doesn’t, be pro-active in bringing one to your workplace.”

Some diversity programs are better than others. You want to find a program that speaks to both the subtle and complex, conscious and unassuming ways that people can offend each other.

4. Deal with conflict in the early stages.

“Ask your co-worker if you did anything to upset him or her. Communicate your willingness to talk about this and see if together you can solve the issue.”

It’s important to realize that the relationship is more important than being right about something trivival. If your coworker sees that you are sincere, a solution to the problem is not far away.

5. Listen.

“Before jumping to conclusions, sit down with the person with whom you’re in conflict and try to understand the issue fully. During the conversation, make sure you acknowledge his or her feelings and paraphrase their opinion back to them to enhance your comprehension.”

You may be anxious to state your case. But if you are patient, you’ll have your moment. And if you show that you’re willing to listen, you are more likely to get the same courtesy extended to you.

6. Be mindful of your language.

“It is important to avoid assigning blame to the person you’re speaking with, and taking note of the words you use will help you avoid falling into this trap. Try to use ‘I’ statements that explain how you feel, and give examples of why you feel that way.”

You don’t want to say anything that will reignite the conflict. Don’t give them anything to latch onto. It’s actually a clever tactic. You can state your perspective without having the conversation derail.

7. Ask for help.

“If the conflict continues to build, recruit someone in the workplace who you respect to act as a mediator. This could be your manager, a human resources professional, or a manager from a different department.”

You aren’t looking for a judge. You simply want an unbiased perspective to keep things civil.

8. Be sure the problem is resolved.

#The problem isn’t properly resolved until both parties in the argument feel better about the situation. Set guidelines for how to handle a similar situation in the future. You might say something like, ‘Let’s commit that you will let me know right away if I do something that upsets you, and when you bring it to my attention, we will stop what we are doing to address it.’”

Some people bury their feelings. While you think it’s resolved, it may be far from over. Give them time to process their thoughts, before you force them to shake hands and consider it done.