Tips for resolving interpersonal conflict in the workplace (video transcript)

Do you ever find yourself in an interpersonal conflict at work? Somebody on your team who just rubs you the wrong way, drives you a bit crazy or maybe they’re totally disrespectful of you? Hi, I’m Dr. Liane Davey, and I’m here to help you with what you can do when you find yourself in an interpersonal conflict at work.

In one of my recent videos, I shared the steps you can take if you’re in a conflict at work that’s about an issue or about the right course of action.

Well, that’s a really different situation than if it’s not so much the issue or what they want to do or what the plans are. It’s more just that they make you crazy. In that case, there are a few things that you can do that will help you, if not get to the situation where you wanna go out for drinks after work together, at least get to the point where you’re civil and you respect each other enough to do your job well.

Tip #1: Use objective language (00:53)

Well, first step is to make sure anytime you’re talking about that person that you’re really careful to be incredibly objective. Usually that means not using any adjectives, which is a way we often express our judgment of people.

Let’s do a real example. If you’re thinking “He was so rude in that meeting”, going back to someone and saying “you are so rude!”, or even thinking about and judging them in your own head as rude is really going to be hard on your relationship. It’s hard to get to the other side of an interpersonal conflict if you’re labeling somebody as rude.

So what you want to do in that case is say, “What’s making me think that he’s rude? What’s the objective real behavior, either something he said or something he did, that’s making me interpret that as rude?” It may be something like “he stuck up his hand as I was talking”. Yep, that counts. That’s totally rude. Maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe it was he didn’t even show up for your presentation. “Well, fine, you came to everybody else’s presentations, but not mine”.

When you are able to objectively share somebody else’s behavior, you’re much less likely to really cause this sort of escalation of the conflict. And instead, you’re likely to be able to find out that maybe the person didn’t come to your presentation because he got called into some emergency. When you get back to your inbox, there was a message saying “I’d love to get caught up”. You don’t know, right?

So when we interpret someone’s behavior in a certain way and we share with them our interpretation, we normally get it wrong. So speak really objectively.

Tip #2: Highlight the implications (02:29)

Next piece, you can actually share what you see as the implications of somebody’s behavior.

Let’s take a completely different example. Say you’re just presenting very first presentation of a big, new idea. Your slides, you threw them together because it was really just about getting some input. And you’re two minutes into the presentation when Sally goes, “There’s a typo. “That’s not actually how that’s spelled.”

So what you want to do is again make sure you’re objective, step one applies everywhere. But you can also then talk about the implications. So you could say something like “When you share information about spelling mistakes or you suggest edits when I’m in my first presentation, I get taken off course and I don’t get to focus on the ideas and I’m worried I’m going to miss your input on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ questions. That’s where I really need your input at this stage”.

So you can talk about “when you behave in a certain way, like calling out a spelling mistake in our very first brainstorming session, the implication is it takes me off track. I lose my focus and I miss the opportunity to hear your thoughts on the bigger issues”. So that’s how you share implications of something.

Tip #3: Share how you’re interpreting the behavior (03:44)

Another thing you can do, and this takes a little bit of vulnerability, but if you actually want to get your relationship in a better place, it can be super useful, which is to share with the person how you are interpreting their behavior. Because often, it’s not that the other person is mean or annoying on purpose. It’s that the story you’re telling yourself paints them as the enemy in the situation.

So for example, maybe you’re doing something in the team meeting, giving your update, and your manager keeps jumping in over and over and over, five times in your 10 minute presentation. Instead of you getting to answer the question, your manager jumps in and answers it.

It’s a great place to share privately later. You could say something like “When you answer the question that was posed of me during my section, I feel like you don’t have confidence in me. And then I’m worried that the team doesn’t have confidence in me either”. And it might be that manager’s reaction’s like, “Oh, that’s totally not what I meant! I did your job for so long. I’m just so used to jumping in.”

Then you might even pose another question, which is great when you’re trying to repair a relationship, saying “How could you signal to the team that you have confidence in me?”

Tip #4: Seek advice from others (04:56)

Finally, if you’re in a situation where you’ve tried all those things, you’ve given the person feedback directly, you’ve talked about what you see and what the implications are and how that’s affecting you, and it’s just really not making a dent in the problem, that’s a situation where you might want to go and get some advice from somebody else.

So you might want to say something like “The boss, Stu, he keeps answering all the questions that are posed of me in our team meetings. I’m worried that when he answers questions people have asked of me that that signals that he doesn’t have confidence in me. You know Stu better than I do. First of all, what do you think? How would you interpret that behavior?”

So when you go asking for advice, particularly if it’s about your manager, make sure you’re not complaining or gossiping, but talk about how you’re experiencing their behavior, what you’re worried about. And maybe the person says, “Oh, everybody knows Stu. They know he just is so excited. I don’t think there’s any issue on the team.” Or they might say, “Yeah, I survived that with Stu. Takes a while before he has the confidence to let you go. Try this.”

Tip #5: Acknowledge your internal narrative (06:02)

The final thing that’s important to say is I often hear people who are embroiled in a really unpleasant interpersonal conflict on their team. They tell me that, “Oh, she just, she makes me crazy. He makes me so upset.” And what I hear is all sorts of blaming other people for how you feel.

Ultimately, nobody can make you feel any way. There is something in that process that is about how you interpreted their behavior. And it’s the story you’re telling yourself that’s what’s getting in the way. So just remembering nobody else can make you feel anything, that’s your own reaction. And the more you’re aware of it and you can label it, probably you can free yourself from that.

Bonus tip: “The Coffee Card Method” (06:49)

Here’s my final bonus tip. This is only for situations where things have really gotten bad. But if it has really gotten bad, I use the line “if you can’t make a dent in the problem, reduce the dent that it makes in you.”

And under that heading, I say if you need to have a few lines that that person uses or things the person does, like I don’t know, shoot you with the air guns or whatever it is, interrupt you in a meeting, have yourself a little coffee card that you can punch every time they do it. And have a buddy. The deal is, if you punch that card five times or 10 times or whatever it is, then you go for a coffee with your buddy to vent.

I find what’s interesting about using that technique if there’s somebody you’re finding is really draining you, all of a sudden that changes the power dynamic. And where this might have driven you crazy before, now you’re like, ha, point on the card. And just something about that completely changes how we think about the situation. Now it’s not annoying anymore. Now it’s like 1/10 of the way to a free macchiato. Don’t use that unless you’re really in a rough situation that you can’t get out of, but it really can be helpful.

More on this

The importance of conflict resolution at work

Productive Versus Unproductive Conflict Resolution

The Steps to Resolve a Conflict at Work