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Don’t let ‘covert conflicts’ take over

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in Workplace Communication

Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, you and another worker become engaged in a feud. Only it’s not out in the open; it’s simmering under the surface.

The other worker, Lex, acts annoyed when you ask her things. She makes “jokes” at your expense. She contradicts you in front of higher-ups. And when you try to help with something, she becomes territorial, saying, “No, no, let me do that.”

You’re in the middle of a “covert conflict.” To resolve it, first turn it into an overt conflict. Three steps to take:

1. Clear the air with a direct conversation. If the problem seems trivial, let it go. But if it’s part of a larger pattern, then tackling it head-on could be your only solution. Start by asking Lex if you did something to offend her.

2. Seek a neutral third party to join the talk. If you suspect that Lex might get defensive and deny that she’s done anything, find a good mediator who knows you both. A third party can encourage a frank discussion and allow both sides to feel safe enough to air feelings.

3. Ask questions. Focus first on understanding Lex’s position. Once you understand her position, she will be more willing to hear you out. You may be surprised by how she then becomes much more willing to accept your position.

In the end, you may find that Lex misinterpreted something you said long ago. Her festering feelings may have clouded her view and caused her to act out. By bringing it into the open, you can end the feud for good.

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