What are Some Ways to Deal with Workplace Conflict?

Natalie LaFranzo of Cofactor Genomics explains that while workplace conflict is inevitable, the best way to manage it is through supportive confrontation
Natalie LaFranzo, Vice President, Strategy, LINUS
Natalie LaFranzo, Vice President, Strategy, LINUS

Workplace conflict is inevitable. A diverse workplace, where people come together from different backgrounds, motivations, and work styles, is a breeding ground for innovation and progress but can also result in misunderstandings. Establishing a culture in your organization where differences in opinion are healthy, respect and professionalism are paramount, and there is an openness to learn from others is ideal.

In addition, normalizing ways to address conflict head-on rather than avoiding, can be powerful. In the book, Power Up: Transforming Organizations Through Shared Leadership the term supportive confrontation is introduced and discussed. This is a direct communication style that is intended to empower both leaders and team members to resolve interpersonal disputes. 

The process is described as providing strong feedback focused only on what you can control – the impact of the other person’s behavior. The authors describe a serious barrier in conflict resolution: defensiveness. Defensiveness is often a result of people overstepping their own knowledge and experiences, and making assumptions about the intent and motives of others. It is important to recognize that your own experiences may not be the best lens to apply to other’s actions and in fact, can cause great confusion. The supportive confrontation method encourages raw honesty in expressing your reality and experience, rather than trying to explain what you can only (and often incorrectly) guess about the other person. The book advocates for four main approaches: 

Approach 1: “This Is The Effect Of Your Behavior On Me”
Approach 2: “Your Behavior Is Not Meeting Your Apparent Goals or Intentions”
Approach 3: “Your Behavior May Meet Your Goals, but It Is Very Costly To You”
Approach 4: “In What Ways Am I Part of the Problem?”

By considering each of these independently, or in combination, you can facilitate a discussion that is more disarming and productive. Importantly, these work well regardless of whether you have a strong relationship or a contentious relationship with a coworker, whether you are in a position of authority or not, and you can authentically tailor them for each scenario. The book advocates for using these in a structure where there is joint problem solving which results in mutual agreement and most importantly, appropriate follow up and/or changed behavior. 

Shout out to my boss and mentor, Jarret Glasscock, for recommending this book!

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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