I’ve worked in a corporate environment for many years, and I’ve had some great leaders and experiences and plenty of terrible ones. I’ve learned and become a better professional from each situation.
One example of avoidable conflict that sticks out to me involved my coworker/friend. Both of us were constantly receiving push back on ideas and nit-picky feedback on everything from a team we had to work very closely with. This was causing quite a bit of tension, so I knew it was best to limit interactions and if possible, make sure there were others present during any communication.
One day, my friend made the mistake of walking over to a colleague to make a simple request instead of sending an email. Shortly thereafter she received feedback that her tone and posture during the interaction were condescending and abrasive. (She was casually leaning on a counter.) What’s interesting was that I knew their accusation was inaccurate and unlike my friend I wasn’t surprised by the feedback. I had been watching the patterns of the manager and had developed strategies from previous roles to curb unnecessary conflict before it even came my way.
I hope these 7 tips help you avoid conflict before it starts as much as they’ve helped me!
1. Use your imagination to assume the best, but prepare for the worst
Many of us have such active imaginations we can have a whole argument with ourselves (usually in the shower) to prep our points JUST IN CASE something pops off! While it is good to be prepared, it’s better to cover all your bases and make sure you’re not leaving any room for misinterpretation. (See #2.)
Positive communication that affirms the other person's point of view is also helpful. Maybe there was a genuine misunderstanding, but since you’ve had issues before, your automatic response is to assume the worst. Assuming the best not only protects your energy, but it can help clear the air and allows for more open communication channels in the future.
2. Over communicate and document
In the example with my friend, she thought having an in-person conversation would be better than sending a cold, emotionless email request. However, in situations where everything is being scrutinized, it’s almost better to clearly communicate and document this communication to make sure you can confirm you did your best to rectify the situation. If you need to have a long verbal conversation, send an email to confirm the outcome. For example, “Thanks for taking time to talk through _____. Here’s a summary of what we confirmed will work well for both teams…”
3. Read the room, and leave your emotions at the door
Keep in mind that every issue does not need to be addressed in every meeting. If you and a team member have had issues, be sure to choose your words wisely and avoid petty comments especially in group settings. Even if everyone agrees with you, it’s not professional or an attribute of a future leader.
If you have direct reports, it might also be worth taking the time to understand your team’s preferred communication style. Would they rather hear everything together and all at once, or is it better to connect individually with feedback and action plans. This obviously takes more of your time, but it will build your team’s morale and improve communication and trust in the long run.
4. Adjust your energy
Listen, this is a tough one. Many times we tense up when we have to deal with difficult people or address an awkward situation. People can sense that and then respond accordingly. Learn when to turn on your upbeat outgoing side and when a more docile energy is needed to address a concern or elephant in the room. Additionally, empathy goes a long way, and is a quality the best leaders possess.
5. Beware of RBF – smile a little bit more :)
I struggle with this, and that’s the main reason it’s on this list. If you’re dealing with a lot of stress at home or in an environment separate from work, it can be hard to fake your excitement to work when you are already exhausted. Learn to be honest about what’s going on in your life so that others can understand if you’re not as expressive and not assume they're the cause.
Black people have always been taught to keep our personal business separate from work, but everyone also likes to know all the tea. If you can find a few moments to share a detail about your life that you’re okay with the world knowing, share that! It will help your team feel more connected to you and the more connected you are, the more supporters you’ll have!
6. Remember that you’re not entitled to respect.
Respect is earned over time and can be lost in a moment. Sometimes conflict arises simply because of a perceived lack of respect, but every idea that’s presented in a meeting is not a threat to your authority or job security. If you’re continuing to do your job well, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Going back to #1, assume the best in your team. Maybe something was said in a meeting that sparked someone’s creative juices, or maybe they felt an idea would be well received in a group setting versus one-on-one. Whatever the reason you think someone went around an established chain of command, do your best to commend their boldness and offer to assist and provide additional support in the future.
7. Find reasons to express genuine gratitude and congratulations
This can be a tricky one as there is a fine line between doing this effectively and sounding sarcastic, but when done often and correctly, this is an extremely effective way to connect with your teammates. If people feel that you’re genuinely rooting for them, there more likely to assume the best and be open to constructive feedback. Whether it’s a simple compliment or “thank you for your help,” every little comment adds up and builds the trust you need when looking for support in many areas in the future.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, try a few (or all) of the tips from this list and let us know how your team responds! Keep in mind that every work environment is different and what worked in one role may not work with a new team. Trust your instincts and if something truly feels off and you can’t talk to your leaders, chat with HR if you need to. There should be a no retaliation option just to share what’s been happening and ask for advise. Until next time, let’s thrive together!
Written by Carmen Neely,
Career Thrivers Content Contributor