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7 ways to handle friction with co-workers (avoidance is not one of them)

Posted by Scott Fiore on May 15, 2019

While some friction in the workplace is to be expected, too much is harmful to everyone involved, particularly if left unresolved. Conflicts between employees disrupt their work and that of colleagues who share the work environment. Ongoing disagreements can affect job performance and even the company’s productivity and bottom line.

While most U.S. workers report involvement in workplace strife at times, more than a third say they deal with it often or always. In a typical week, employees spend, on average, about three hours handling conflict at work. That’s just 7 percent of the work week, but in terms of productivity, the costs are staggering, resulting in an estimated $360 billion in paid hours.*

So, what’s causing all this workplace friction? Employees say mainly personality conflicts and warring egos, as well as stress and workloads. These may lead to angry outbursts and insults; nasty, behind-the-back comments; poor communications; procrastination on projects; and more.

Other than avoiding people who rub us the wrong way—which doesn’t solve and often intensifies the problem—what can we do to resolve conflict at work?

Try taking these steps to manage conflict with co-workers

  1. Ask yourself why the person bothers you. Be aware of what is setting you off. If dealing with a specific incident, review what caused the problem.
  2. Look at your own behavior and words. Could you be overreacting? Is it “small stuff” you can adjust to or learn to live with—or not?
  3. Try viewing the situation from the perspective of the “problem” co-worker, rather than only through yours.
  4. Consider the individual’s strengths. Doing so may help you better tolerate their deficiencies.
  5. Meet with the person who bothers you. Tell your side honestly while listening respectfully to theirs. Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings without showing judgment.
  6. Communicate in person with the individual as much as possible and not just through email.
  7. In working out a particular problem, compromise if necessary, as neither of you may be totally right or totally wrong.

Regarding number 5, we know that many of you would rather get a tooth pulled than meet with your adversary. However, it is often the best approach and generally less painful than you expect. So, take a deep breath or two, and do it.

If you remain at an impasse, tell the other person you feel a third party’s perspective might help. Solicit the input and mediation services of an HR or department manager, who can sit down and talk through the issue with both of you.

Some department leaders are trained in conflict resolution—a skill that is useful to managers but even to front-line employees. Perhaps your company would be willing to offer training in conflict resolution to your management staff, and maybe even all employees.

TriStarr’s HR consulting services can help you manage your HR issues

Could you benefit from assistance with recruiting, interviewing, and other HR challenges? At TriStarr, an employment agency in Lancaster, Pa., we offer HR consulting services and would be glad to partner with you for a solution to your HR issues. TriStarr’s professional team has more than 60 years of experience in administrative and professional staffing, recruiting, and HR consulting services. Contact us online, or give us a call at (717) 560-2111.

*Source: CPP Global Human Capital Report: Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive