5 Tips on How To Handle Tension and Conflict at Work

It is essential that we deal with conflict constructively. In the context of restarting on-campus work, we would like to offer you some tips.

The last couple of months were challenging. Covid-19 changed telework into standard practice and this experience has been different for all our colleagues. Your children couldn’t go to school, your partner took up too much room on the desk you share of perhaps you felt lonely because you’ve been home alone all this time. The only thing most of us shared, was the experience of additional stress. And stress gets passed onto colleagues all too easily.

Trustpunt wants to emphasize that tension and conflicts are normal in a work environment. This is no different during unusual circumstances such as corona. It’s important to consider that tensions usually aren’t caused by a deteriorating work relationship, but rather by circumstances that cause people to experience more stress than usual.

But regardless of what’s causing the tension, our motto should always be: don’t just give up, take action! Conflicts are not dealt with by ignoring them, but by engaging in conversation about them. So, in the context of restarting on-campus work, we would like to give you 5 tips:

Ask the person with whom you notice there is tension about what’s causing it according to him/her. Even if you think you know what led to the current situation. Listening to someone is difficult if you experience tension. We tend to think about what we want to say ourselves and how we can defend ourselves far more often than really putting ourselves in the position of those we are talking to. This is why it is important to summarize what you hear internally and to continue asking questions based on this information. Use open questions, such as What do you think about the situation? Or What do you find most important in this situation?

Check if you understand things correctly to avoid misinterpretations (E.g. Is it correct that...; Do you mean that...).

A lot of the time, we assume that we understand another’s feelings and intentions; and we act on that understanding. But those presuppositions are often wrong! Also, time and again, we are only susceptible to information that confirms existing convictions and assumptions. Test those assumptions. Do not hold onto them if they prove to be wrong. A good mnemonic device for this is DAY-KAY (Don’t Assume You Know Another like Yourself).

Try to accept your emotions and find out what’s causing them. Ask yourself Why do I feel this way? What do I need? Be open about how you feel to who you’re speaking to so that he or she knows what’s going on with you.

E.g. "I can imagine that the things I said/did came across to you in this way."; "I can imagine that my chaotic way of working is difficult for you."; "I want to start off by apologizing if this is the case." This is not an easy thing to do, but it is nevertheless very important because it works to deescalate a situation! If both sides recognize their own part in what lead to conflict, a solution can more easily be found.

If you have the feeling that you won’t be able to work things out, you can always ask a third, neutral party for help.

The counselors at Trustpunt can help employees who experience conflict professionally and discretely. Recognizing there is a problem and asking for help is the first step. After all, conflicts are unavoidable where people work together, but they can also be the motor for positive change.

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