How to Handle Conflict With a Coworker

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Conflict with a coworker can be awkward and difficult to resolve. Although issues likely stem from professional causes, they can quickly elicit personal responses like gossip, name calling and isolation, all of which hinder workplace productivity. If you find yourself regressing from a professional adult to a sulking teenager when you feel scorned at work, or if you have trouble handling a serious difference of opinion with a coworker, take steps to actively resolve the situation.

  • Understand the source of the conflict. Perhaps your coworker has (once again) "borrowed" your stapler without asking. While it's usually a small annoyance, perhaps you had an argument with your spouse this morning, and were stuck in traffic on your morning drive. Because your emotions are already boiling, the stapler issue has sent you over the edge. Before you lash out at your coworker, take a moment and examine what portion of your anger she actually contributed to.

  • Talk about minor problems with your coworker first. You may feel inclined to express your frustration to your allies in the office first, but this will only create an atmosphere of gossip and disrespect. Don't say anything behind your coworker's back that you wouldn't say to her face. For more serious issues, like bullying or sexual harassment, speak to your supervisor or a human resources professional. Insist that your complaint be documented in writing. If your coworker is angry with you, politely ask what you did wrong and how you can help resolve the issue.

  • For direct confrontations, keep the conversation one-on-one, unless a mediator is required. Confronting your coworker in front of other people will cause her to assume a defensive stance and hinder honest communication. If the two of you find the matter escalating and can't come to a mutually beneficial conclusion, ask a mediator such as a supervisor or human resources official to help you hash things out.

  • Choose your words with care. When discussing the issue, remain professional. Don't use insults or profanity. Keep your nonverbal communication in check as well; no eye-rolling, arm-folding or foot-tapping.

  • Clear your inner dialogue and listen without preparing a rebuttal. Show that you're listening by making direct eye contact and nodding occasionally. Don't interrupt, even if you feel you have something important to say. When your coworker is finished speaking, repeat back what he has said in your own words to ensure you're communicating effectively.

  • Find a compromise that benefits both of your points of view.

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