How to Diffuse Conflict at Work

How to Diffuse Conflict at Work

We asked Patty Ross, 4word Board member with a 34-year career leading teams at Nike, to share her advice for not just dealing with conflict in the workplace but being a positive source of Christ's love to those with whom you work.

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Do we as Christians have a responsibility to help resolve conflict at work? How can we avoid causing conflict in our workplaces?

I have spent the majority of my career leading organizational change initiatives, which meant requiring teams and individuals to move outside of their comfort zone. This discomfort and usual resistance often lead to conflict, most often seen through passive-aggressiveness. Passive-aggressive people seem to be supportive, logical and even helpful; however, they say one thing and then do another.

What I’ve learned in dealing with passive-aggressive colleagues is that I must first maintain my sense of calm and integrity and approach them with a mind of curiosity on what is motivating the behavior. This reaction is usually related to a fear-based issue, such as fear of change, of the unknown, of losing control, etc. I always try to "own" my part in how I might be contributing to the dynamic of the situation. 

Then it’s all about "focusing on the content, not the delivery," meaning focus on the underlying business concern or question rather than the way the other person is expressing herself. I might not be able to break the person of her passive-aggressive habits; however, I can control how I react to it. Whatever you say, don’t accuse, label, or judge the person of being passive-aggressive, as it will put others who are already on the defensive into an angrier position. Instead show that the behavior is working against something your counterpart cares about, like achieving team goals. In the end, as a Christian woman in the workplace, it is our responsibility to lead by example, show compassion for others, and not allow strife to build up with others. “I do live in the world. But I don’t fight my battles the way the people of the world do.” (2 Cor 10:3 NIRV)  

Are there certain dynamics that lead to more conflict in the workplace? How can we avoid those dynamics?

Most workplace conflict stems from a lack of shared understanding, poor communication, differences in personalities and values, unclear expectations, and unhealthy competition. Based on research on team dynamics of Fortune 500 corporations, researchers have found that a proactive approach to managing team conflict is necessary and critical. When you identify differences before a team starts to work, you’re better positioned to preempt destructive conflict. Encourage openness and commit to openly discussing team member differences. Prioritize accountability over blame. Quantify the impact of the conflict which encourages productive conversations, creates alignment around the significance of the issues, and unlocks creative solutions.

Here are "10 Tips for Tackling Workplace Conflicts" that I often use in managing conflict: 

(source: Jessica Harper, US World News Report)

  1. Tackle the issue after both parties have calmed down
  2. Maintain a positive outlook, keep an open mind, and assume the best
  3. Practice active listening
  4. Seek first to understand
  5. Acknowledge the input and perspective of others
  6. Solicit feedback
  7. Consider your role in the conflict
  8. Ask the other person to suggest a solution
  9. Seek wise counsel, support, trained professionals in building your conflict resolution capabilities
  10. Reflect, learn and evolve 

How can we bring peace to our workplaces even when others tend to create drama/conflict?

We usually don't get to choose the people with whom we work, which means connecting with them is not going to be the same as connecting with family and friends. Keeping the peace in the office starts with you and your awareness and commitment to creating a safe and inclusive environment. Commit to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem by not doing things that provoke stress (gossiping, stirring the pot, etc.). Reflect on whether or not your behavior is affecting others. Use open and direct communication, with an emphasis on appreciating others, offering mutual support, and being a good listener. Establish trust and loyalty. Create an environment where others feel valued, respected, safe and heard. And of course, love God and love others!

Do Christian women in particular have a unique perspective to bring to the table when conflict arises at work?

As a Christian woman in the workplace, my first step is to always start with prayer. Knock, ask and seek. 

Ask for God’s guidance as you reflect on the following questions:

I would also recommend reading Chris Adam’s “9 Ways to Handle Conflict Biblically” article as I think she beautifully articulates how God wants us to resolve conflict in our relationships.

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