This woman just doesn’t like me. She laughs with other co-workers, but when I join the conversation, she instantly freezes. She shoots down my ideas in meetings and goes out of her way to avoid making eye contact.
What in the world? I have no idea what’s wrong, but something is definitely wrong.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33, NIV).
Scripture tells us we will have conflict in life, and it’s how we handle the conflict that matters. How can we ease the tension, especially in the workplace? How do we approach conflict in a Christian way? Avoiding conflict is not the answer, but “speaking our mind” isn’t right either. In fact, as in every aspect of our lives, God has a plan for resolving conflict.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” (Matthew 5:9).
Strategies for resolving workplace conflict
First, we should talk directly to the person with whom we are struggling. We aren’t supposed to chat with all our coworkers about how much we don’t like her. We aren’t supposed to go straight to the manager to complain. We aren’t supposed to whine about it to our husbands or friends. We should talk with the person gently and directly.
Hint: Don’t wait. Deal with it now. This little conflict simmering on the back burner will boil over and put you in a mess of hot water if you don’t resolve it.
How we approach a person sets the tone for the whole conversation. Accusatory tones force the person with whom we’re speaking into a corner where she feels like she needs to put on her gloves and come out fighting. It’s better to start with common ground. One way I’ve started a tough conversation is by saying: “I’ve felt like something’s not quite right between us, and I wanted to see if it’s my imagination, or if you’re feeling the same thing.” Use your body language, facial expressions, and eye contact to project care for her and a peaceful heart.
People are generally receptive to apologies. I like to start with confessing my part in the current issue and ask the other person to forgive me. Frequently, setting that example will lead the other person to admit she isn’t perfect either, and it opens up the conversation for mutual forgiveness, relationship restoration, and resolution of the issue.
Preserve the Relationship
Remember, the goal of the conversation is to preserve the relationship, not to “win” the battle. Even if we prove ourselves right and force our point of view, we have sown the seeds of bitterness, which will take root and grow into a big mess. Both people need to come out on the other side feeling like they’ve participated in a mutually beneficial solution. Everyone should feel victorious, valued, and committed to improvement by the end of the meeting.
Not long ago, I was faced with a situation where I knew something wasn’t right in a relationship with another woman. I asked her to meet with me. Upon arrival, she sat down with her arms crossed, ready for battle. I began, “I’m so sorry. I must have done or said something to hurt you. I know I can be insensitive sometimes in my hustle to get things done. Will you please forgive me and tell me what has upset you?”
There was an immediate change in the other woman’s posture. She broke down crying and told me about something I had said in passing that really had hurt her deeply. The comment was completely not meant as it was taken, and after a few minutes of conversation, the issue was completely resolved. Wow! If I hadn’t taken the daunting step of confronting the issue gently and directly, this little misunderstanding could have grown into bitterness and resentment, with ripple effects impacting everyone around us. Instead, though, we strengthened our working relationship, learned to understand each other better, gave each other grace, and became a more effective team in the process.
Take a look at the team of people surrounding you in your workplace. Is there anyone you find yourself purposefully avoiding? Can you name someone who seems to always vacate the room as soon as you walk in? Remember, no conflict is worth sacrificing the ability to perform the duties you’ve been hired to carry out.
Take the situation’s reins and approach the co-worker in question. In most situations, a few moments of discomfort and transparency will result in a more unified work relationship, which in turn will improve the workplace performance of everyone involved.