How to have difficult conversations at work when you hate conflict

Workplace conflict is bound to arise. Be it with colleagues, clients, or bosses, navigating work relationships requires you to confront problems. You need to choose your battles wisely, of course, but you need to be ready to use your voice when the time is right.

For some of us, this is not our natural disposition. We’d rather avoid these situations, even when they hurt us in the long run. However, in the workplace, speaking up is part of all of our jobs.

Conflict is needed at times

It is understandable to want to avoid conflict. Yet, most issues in the workplace persist precisely because no one wants to confront them. The truth is, by not speaking up you remain trapped in your conflict.

It is essential for everyone’s growth that you learn to manage these tense work situations from time to time. Doing so proves your capabilities as a worker and as a leader.

So, why do so many of us skirt the chance to face our troubles? The truth is that the majority of humans will opt to avoid conflict when given a chance. We’re naturally inclined to have a fight or flight response when faced with potential threats, and often, flight is much easier.

However, without addressing workplace issues, they are more likely to fester than fade away. This is especially true when it comes to interpersonal issues or issues regarding your job function. Personality quirks have existed since the dawn of human interaction and have been causing problems for just as long. Meanwhile, roles shift rapidly at jobs and can upset a once content employee.

Conflicts at work are inevitable, and it’s better to be prepared to deal with them than let them continue on without resolution. While finding a resolution may feel difficult or stressful, solving conflicts at work benefits you, your team, and your company immensely.

How to have the tough conversations

For many workers of the world, just recognizing the need for a difficult conversation is an achievement in itself. From there, a range of reasons and excuses help people avoid dealing with the issue. From self-preservation to perceptions of the workplace, people tend to do everything they can to avoid the most obvious solution: talking.

Unless your job or health is at risk, you must overcome such hurdles. The following solutions should have you clearing common mental obstacles that surround office conflict.

1. Don’t put it off

Our brains often justify waiting before acting. While sleeping on an idea certainly has merit, that isn’t the case when it comes to conflict. Often, only one side is aware of the problem. If you are that person, sitting on your frustration won’t quell it one bit.

Holding in your frustration only brews rumination. Your brain creates a swirl of what if scenarios and outcomes until your mind is a mess. Now, you’re all wound up, and the other side of the issue is likely none the wiser. When, if ever, you address the problem, it will now sound like a long-held point of contention instead of a resolvable topic.

2. Stop worrying about the outcome

One of the top reasons we put off tense conversations is fearing the outcome. Fear can stem from a negative past experience or our own assumptions. Regardless, worry will always be present in our minds to some degree. It’s your job to instill a bit of confidence into your inner monologue.

Understand your scenario and determine how you can make it successful for yourself. Even when dealing with a trying colleague or difficult boss, picture a positive outcome. This isn’t just some hokey visualization method; you have the evidence to support your belief: you’re ready and willing to work to find a positive solution.

3. Be self-aware and empathetic

Every person on the planet is fighting for their own goal, whether we recognize it or not. Keep this sentiment in mind when thinking about how to address a trying conversation. Consider your feelings, as well as the other party’s. Then, factor how this may have impacted their actions.

You may find that your goals align much more than you once thought. Other times, they might prove to be a jerk. But by considering all possibilities, you have the best opportunity to form a solution that benefits you all. Going forward, try not to assume much of the other party; only consider the facts.

4. Be direct

Being direct is an art that many people never master. Being too direct can get you labeled as rude, inconsiderate, or intimidating. If you avoid being direct, you can get labeled as a pushover or a follower, plus you run the risk of not achieving your desired outcome.

Factoring in the previous steps should help form your direct approach. With them in mind, you should be able to create constructive comments on the situation without getting personal. Just be sure to find a matching tone that conveys a serious emotion with an empathetic perspective.

The last part of being direct is to definitively lay out your points without beating around the bush. Breathe easy; you are almost through the conflict.

5. Listen and respond accordingly

The last step leads to the actual conversation. While it is wise to have talking points, don’t come with canned responses you formulated while ruminating. Instead, listen to the other party’s response and form a thoughtful response in the moment. Keep a measured tone and never let your point fall from your mind.

There are endless outcomes for a difficult conversation. All you can do at this point is empathize with their response and state your feelings on the matter when it’s your time to respond.

Difficult conversations won’t go away

It’s best that you get accustomed to the occasional tense talk. They are bound to occur in work and in life. You should never seek them out, but embrace the times you need to let your voice be heard.

Once you’ve thoroughly thought out a situation, put the conversation into action. State your needs while doing your best to understand the potential opposing viewpoints. Listen to their responses and try not to assume any outcomes before heading in. By following these steps, you, too, can adeptly navigate the murky waters of any difficult workplace conversation.