How to deal with conflict

Career masterclass: Dealing with conflict in the office.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Embrace it. Healthy conflict sparks innovation and accelerates progress. Ask yourself: is the conflict bigger than a personal dispute? Could it push the organisation forward? If the answers are yes, stop worrying and start arguing.

Face it. Furious stakeholders? Don't cower (or glower); explore their frustrations. Discuss their complaints and show you care. A ready ear and a desire to help can dispel the fiercest hostility.

Have a break. If healthy conflict has turned toxic, park the issue. Go and cool off but set a date to reopen discussions.

Mediate. Team at each other's throats? Resist intervening too early - they may need to have it out - but step in if progress stops. Ban insults, emphasise points of agreement, and restate objectives. If all else fails, tackle the worst offenders individually.

Use body language. Change your stance to refocus a sceptical crowd's attention; build rapport with an angry client by mirroring his gestures; force a response from an opponent by moving into his personal space. Just keep it subtle.

Prevent it. Seek to understand your stakeholders - then discuss shared or incompatible goals and agree ways of working. Build trust with honest communication.

Watch yourself. Conflict is usually caused by toxic mindsets: low tolerance, blinkered thinking, and believing others are to blame. If that sounds familiar, the problem is probably you.

Know your enemy. Treat pessimists as a sounding board; control chatterboxes with closed questions; show know-alls you value their expertise. If you suspect someone has a vendetta against you, ask. At best you'll solve it there and then; at worst, your boldness will shut them up.

Apologise. It can be the only answer. If you're in the wrong, make it full and heartfelt; if it's just to break the stalemate, grit your teeth and think of the relationship you're saving.

The Mind Gym: Relationships is published by Little, Brown at £12.99 -

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