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How to handle conflict in the workplace

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

There is conflict everywhere and we have all without a doubt encountered it. Conflict can be a daunting aspect of the workplace and resolving conflict isn't always black and white.

While you can't avoid conflict, there are ways to deal with it as it comes. These are some of my personal tips and tricks for resolving conflict and maintaining a calm work environment. Specifically the interaction between workers and customers/clients.


1) The Power of a Thank you

My personal favourite resolution is what I like to call the "The patience manipulation". Essentially if you have a frustrated customer/client instead of saying sorry (Try to avoid saying sorry to customers unless its completely necessary!) simply say "Thank you for your patience".

I cannot tell you how many times these five words have brought a calm vibe into the workplace. If you choose to apologise, you are giving the customer power to be upset or frustrated whereas expressing appreciation for their patience makes the customer feel acknowledged and gives them a sense of pride.


2) Finding a common ground with the customer/client

Whether its 30 seconds or 30 minutes, building any sort of rapport with the customer immediately decreases the chance of a bad run-in.

Even cliche conversation starters like "How about this weather?" and "Any plans for the weekend?" can immediately make a person feel more comfortable, especially in a stressful environment. I work in a place that can be intimidating for some people which can cause different emotional reactions. Some people can become really angry and some can become fragile and express their anxiety with tears. To avoid these reactions I also use slight compliments "Thats a great top, where did you get it?". You'll find people love to talk about themselves once another person initiates it and it's hard for a person to be angry at someone who has expressed interest in them.


3) Body English

You know the saying 'Actions speak louder that words'? Yeah, that can be practised in so many situations including workplace interactions. There are simple things like ensuring your arms aren't folded which prevents a barrier between you and someone else (this is an indicator you don't like someone which can give them reason to speak you badly) or not looking down when you talk to someone so you exude confidence.

When assisting someone you might want to try using your arms in a loose manner, therefore making you look more relaxed and natural. Also, depending on the situation (and when appropriate), slightly touch their shoulder or arm naturally . You can also do this to divert their attention to where you want it to be. And as awkward and uncomfortable as it is, try using eye contact with the other person and throw in some slight head nods when they are speaking (It makes them feel acknowledged)

Don't forget the power of a smile! Portraying a happy persona (even if you aren't feeling it) can really minimise any tension. It's difficult and less reasonable to be mad at someone who is smiling.



If I can digress for a moment;

I have had instances where angry customers have returned back to apologise to me which I always acknowledge regardless of the fact that the conflict shouldn't have occurred in the first place. Nevertheless we've got to take the small wins in life.



I am lucky to have never encountered conflict with a co-worker. That's not to say that I haven't disagreed with a coworker, however, I can give one tip: Don't talk about the conflict with other co-workers. I know its nice to vent to other people especially about frustrating situations but it is my greatest recommendation that you do not do this with other colleagues. It's seriously unnecessary and can be destructive for more than one party.



In the words of Justin Timberlake: What goes around...comes around. Be as calm and kind as you possibly can be and I have to believe that good things will come our way.


Good luck!


Sarah


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