Mending Fences with Coworkers

By Whit Mitchell

Conflict at work is common, and often inevitable. The workplace brings together people with different ideas, backgrounds, passions, motivators, communication styles and priorities. Quite often these aspects don’t align between everyone on the team, and even when they do align, misunderstandings and conflict can arise.

There are many causes of conflict at work, such as lack of clarity in responsibilities, poor job fit, values being violated, inflated egos, disrespectful colleagues, and poor leadership.

One common cause of conflict is competition. When resources are scarce, everybody starts vying for those resources. And when employees start competing with others for resources, it causes conflict. Competing with people on your team is never a good thing. When employees are all fighting for the same thing, they are not united in the goal. 

A soccer team that is not working together will never get the ball down the field. Imagine if every person on the team just wanted to keep the ball for themselves. When employees start fighting across the table for resources or time, you will see the creation of silos and the break down of communication. Leaders end up battling for their departments instead of realizing that they are all on the same team.

It is possible to mend relationships that have been stressed by conflict. Here are three ways to start:

Seek first to understand before being understood.
You might recognize this as Steven Covey’s Habit #5. An easy way to start to understand someone is simply to ask questions. Seek to understand your coworkers, their needs, and what might be at the heart of their behaviors. If a coworker is constantly snapping at others over small issues, it might be an indication that she has something stressful going on in other aspects of her life.

Using FORM is a great way to think of questions, asking about their Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Mission. You can start by picking one letter each week to talk about. 

Take assessments.
One of the most efficient ways to understand the people on your team is to have everyone take an assessment. We offer several assessments that help people to understand and appreciate the differences in their coworkers—and in themselves! It is amazing to see the difference in employee relationships when they have a sheet of paper in front of them that tells them how to best communicate with their coworkers and what they value. It’s a great tool to have.

Walk in their shoes.
Developing relationships at work is the key to mending and even avoiding conflict. Relationships help people to be more resilient and to communicate better. In fact, many people leave jobs because of a lack of connection with their boss or manager.

Go to lunch with your coworkers every 30 days. During that lunch, listen 70% of the time and speak 30% of the time. Watch what happens.