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Workplace Disagreements: How To Handle Them The Right Way

The workplace is a dynamic place. Unfortunately, any time multiple humans get together, there is potential for conflict.


Disagreements in the workplace can be unpleasant. Assuming two people are at odds with one another, that negative vibe can quickly spread through a team or organization. It is almost a guarantee that into each career some disagreement will fall. It would be impossible to always agree on strategy and tactics with colleagues. It would also be counterproductive to always have agreement in the workplace.

Encouraging and promoting different ideas and perspectives are key to coming up with solutions and teams performing at high levels. The task becomes determining if a disagreement is healthy. If it is unhealthy, it can be difficult to diagnose and solve the problem. No matter how much people say, “Let it go, it's just work," that is easier said than done. When people put so much into their career and job, it often becomes worth it to try to understand disagreements—and learn how to manage disagreements.

Navigating these squalls can go a long way to saving or strengthening relationships, and improving one's professional reputation.

Try The Mirror Before The Window

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For starters, when there is a disagreement in the workplace, look in the mirror before peering out the window. In other words, reflect on your actions and perspective before looking at anyone else.

In fact, this advice is handy in a lot of situations. Something to keep in mind is that, in most disagreements, each side genuinely believes they are doing the right thing. Each person's stance can be completely foreign to the other, but if the conflict is approached with an attempt at understanding and mutual respect, a positive resolution is more likely.

Talk To A Mentor, Not Out Of School

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Having someone to talk to about the matter can be helpful. Someone who is removed from the situation, can be trusted, and is discreet. If this person can bring a unique perspective, all the better. He or she can listen, ask challenging and thought-provoking questions, or maybe he or she has been there before and can offer some thoughtful advice.

However, choose a confidant carefully. The other side of this advice is to avoid airing grievances in the workplace. Always attempt to take the high road. Talking too much to too many people can not only be counterproductive and damage relationships, but it can be harmful to a one's reputation.

The point of talking to someone about the situation is to help you assess your perspective.

Take A Positive Approach

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After reflecting on a disagreement, as uncomfortable as it may be, it is almost always most productive to sit down with the other party. Rather than approach the meeting as adversarial, go into it seeking to understand, make progress and find a resolution. Ask each other questions, try to help each other see the other's perspective. If there is a commitment to compromise and flexibility upfront, good things often happen.

Engage A Facilitator

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Good intentions alone may not help. In the event addressing the disagreement head-on is not successful, or the other party is not receptive, it may be helpful to engage a third-party facilitator. The facilitator may need to serve as a mediator, or the person may be helpful in creating a more constructive meeting environment. Either way, there is often value to having someone objective and removed from the situation provide another set of eyes and ears. In order to be most effective, the facilitator should be someone both parties agree about participating.

Many organizations have HR or organizational development consultants in-house that can serve this purpose. Smaller employers may not have that luxury, but there may still be an HR professional or other trusted resource equipped to help the situation. The point is, this person will need to be credible, respected, and willing to provide candid feedback.

Disagreements at work are going to happen. In many instances, disagreements are productive and good signs of diverse thought. They do not need to be the end of the world, but the ones that matter cannot be allowed to fester. Working in an environment where there is hesitancy to disagree or offer an alternative can squash creativity and add unnecessary stress.

When disagreements crop up, it's important to stay professional, reflect on each side's perspective and try to find the best solution possible for the good of everyone involved. It can be tricky at first, but once you know how to resolve disagreements in the workplace, dealing with co-workers becomes much easier. No two situations are going to be alike, but by taking a measured, collaborative approach, even the toughest hurdles can be overcome.


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