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Tried-and-true tips for reducing conflict

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

No matter how talented a manager you are, you'll find yourself in tense situations with employees. Here are some tried-and-true tips for reducing tension and conflict:

Seek a solution. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Avoiding employees with whom you're in conflict does little to end the dispute; don't assume everything will just "blow over" with time. Avoiding conflict also sends undesirable messages — that you're weak or uncertain under pressure — to everyone on the team, and to your own peers and leaders in the workplace.

Set ground rules. Establish what you and the employee are trying to accomplish — a mutually agreeable solution to a problem. It's OK to express emotions, including anger, honestly. (Though, of course, displaying anger may involve more risk for a manager than it does for an employee.) But keep conflicts from spiraling out of control by keeping the need for a solution in mind.

Communication style. Some basic tips: Don't interrupt, keep your attention focused on your employee, maintain a respectful attitude, and avoid distractions. If you don't understand where the worker is coming from, ask questions to clarify. Restate your understanding to make sure it's accurate. It's crucial that each side in a conflict have as much time and attention as necessary to fully state their position and confirm that it's understood.

Self-awareness. Your goal is to see things from the other person's point of view — which requires being attuned to your own. Be honest about your feelings and positions — including the fact that they're your feelings, not the gospel truth just because you're the manager. And, of course, be willing to admit that you may be wrong. Trying to win at all costs is a good way to make manageable conflicts into unmanageable ones.

Focus on needs. To find that solution, ask yourself and the employee what each would need — as opposed to what you want or would like — to be satisfied. You may find that your needs are actually compatible, and that it's relatively easy to resolve your dispute in a mutually agreeable way. Once you've made that assessment, it never hurts to be willing to make the first move and come up with a creative solution.

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