Michelle had been working with Amy for over a year and although their relationship is cordial, Michelle knows she isn’t always giving Amy the whole truth. She doesn’t want to rock the boat, and on several occasions, she has observed Amy not receiving feedback well. It didn’t matter, they are productive and reaching their goals. No need to change anything!

On Wednesday morning, Michelle came into the office to find that Amy had moved forward with a sensitive project that had not been confirmed as ready. And to make matters worse, Amy had emailed Michelle to update her, as if it were a normal project. Michelle was livid. She could feel her heart beating fast and she was holding back the urge to scream. She walked down the hallway to Amy’s office to let her know exactly what she was thinking. No more holding back now!

This is the precise moment that in the movies, the frame freezes. How can Michelle proceed? A few options:

1 – Push Play. Michelle storms down the hall, the anger growing as she gets closer to Amy’s office. She walks in and not so kindly says, “What were you thinking by moving forward with the Seattle project?’ You haven’t thought this through at all!”

2 – Pause. Step back for a minute. What is causing Michelle to feel so angry and frustrated? What has triggered Michelle’s reaction?

3 – Play in Slow-Mo. What is the impact Amy wants to have? What information does Michelle not have that would help her understand Amy’s tactics? What questions can she ask her?

Option 1 will address the conflict head-on. This option forces Amy and Michelle to discuss the situation right away. The probability that Amy will respond in a productive manner is low given Michelle’s heated emotions and comments.

Option 2 allows Michelle to examine herself and understand why she went into this state of anger so quickly. What has happened in the past to push her hot buttons today?

Option 3 allows both Michelle and Amy to deal with the situation in a manner that has the best chances for positive outcomes. They can both feel success and progress coming out of the situation.

Conflict is inevitable. And not all of it is bad. In fact, great outcomes result from conflict. New ideas. New perspectives. You might as well learn the skills to deal with it effectively.

85% of employees in the US experience conflict, amounting to 2.8 hours each week spent in conflict. This amounts to 2.5 weeks of productivity each year. Imagine getting 2.5 weeks more time every year! I am not suggesting that you avoid conflict to gain that time back.

Consider when conflict occurs for you in the workplace – something goes wrong, there is a misalignment of priorities, during conversations about performance and resources, MEETINGS, etc.  Are there situations or people who tend to spark conflict in you?

You CHOOSE how you respond to conflict. When you recognize what triggers a negative or destructive response, you can anticipate and make a plan for the path you will choose instead.

Five constructive reactions to conflict to try instead:

  1. Focus on the task, not the person. When you stay focused on the project, you remain focused on constructive responses so that you reach a mutually desirable outcome. Don’t focus on the individuals.
  2. Understand the other party’s perspective. What is the other party considering? What impact do they really want to have?
  3. Brainstorm to collaboratively develop solutions. Put all ideas on the table without judgement.
  4. Share your emotions. Be honest and calmly share how the situation impacted you. No one can tell you your feelings are wrong.
  5. The 24-hour rule. Do not respond in any format for 24 hours. Within that time frame, it is your raw emotions that are driving your response. Give yourself some time and delay your response to gain a clear head about your priorities and your desired outcomes.

What tactic will you try next time conflict arises?

Where has conflict proven to be productive for you? How can you recreate that situation and outcomes? What do you need to keep in mind around conflict moving forward?

Dangle the carrot of an additional 2.5 weeks to motivate yourself to choose a different path. Gain that time back in your year by addressing conflict in constructive manners.