First of all, conflict is nearly unavoidable. Perspectives, opinions, strategies, and management styles differ. This is a symptom of being human, and personalities sometimes clash. In life, we are given the freedom to avoid disagreeable personalities altogether and surround ourselves with like minds, but at work we cannot always control who we have to work with. Disagreements escalate, but for the sake of progress (and your sanity), must be handled thoughtfully.

Understand that not all conflict is necessarily bad. Conflict can identify bottlenecks in workflows, expose missed opportunities, and when addressed appropriately, increase teamwork and morale. Most conflict at work is simply reflective of opposing perspectives from different teams. That is, different approaches to a shared resource or goal with emphasis on different parts. For example, sales has different short term objectives than marketing, than IT, than finance, than customer service, and so on. But, at the end of the day each of these departments will benefit in the overall success of the company and must work in harmony to meet that end.

…look past surface-level or emotionally driven inconveniences to you and your department.

When approaching conflict between departments it is critical to look past surface-level or emotionally driven inconveniences to you and your department. Set up a meeting with those affected by or contributing to the tensionĀ  and remember to keep your focus on output, not emotion, with two important criteria in mind. Emphasize that the objective of the meeting is to identify bottlenecks in shared workflows, not to place blame. Also, include a moderator that can remain impartial, preferably a senior-level manager with a vested interest in the success of each department working together seamlessly. It is important that this individual help to outline the solution and record key takeaways. This will avoid any he-said she-said down the road.

Once together, iterate the short-term needs of each department and find the overlap between your short-term tasks and objectives. How does one department contribute to the other to accommodate them? Where there is overlap is likely where there is conflict? Imagine a Venn-diagram, each bullet point that falls in the center are your key points of discussion and likely the root of your frustration. How will you improve those points of overlap? How will your coworker(s)? Let your moderator help to assign those responsibilities.

As you communicate your frustrations (hint: you must speak up for yourself), be sure to avoid “you” and “they” in your verbiage. These are accusatory and may be met with some hostility. Instead, use “I” and “we”. After all, this is your perspective. Do this, and you may be surprised to learn that there are simple miscommunications at play. Listen carefully to opposing views and remain sympathetic.

…it is never advisable to forward complaints up the ladder without first attempting to solve them for yourself.

If you are still met with hostility, the discussion may have become emotionally charged and might not be solved despite your best effort. If it is unlikely that a compromise will be met, regroup to collect your case (objectively) and pass it along to your supervisor. While it is never advisable to forward complaints up the ladder without first attempting to solve them for yourself, under this pretense you have provided a show of good faith in your attempt to diffuse tensions in a constructive manner, and with the companies interest at heart.

At the end of the day… some individuals are just stubborn, which benefits no one in the long-run. Take the high-road and keep your focus on outcomes. Don’t spend energy on resentment. What are you going to do about it to keep things moving?

Posted by Bill Grover

A creative marketing leader and self-proclaimed design-thinker, Bill specializes in branding, design, user-experience, advertising and marketing strategy, cross channel marketing, and copywriting.

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