Working in an office isn’t without its fair share of challenges. And, undoubtedly, conflict is one of the big ones. In fact, as Forbes reports, the average manager spends 25-40% of her time dealing with workplace conflicts—yep, they’re that common.
When you have so many different teams, agendas, and personalities colliding (and in some cases, competing) inside those walls, dynamics are bound to get a little complicated.
Office conflicts run the gamut from the big (think major deception or mistrust) to the petty—like when Angie from accounting heats up her tuna melt in the breakroom microwave (yuck!).
While it feels like every conflict is uniquely enraging, most actually fall under a few broad categories. So today we’re talking about five different office conflicts that you’ll likely have to deal with in your career. Even better? We’re covering some tips to help you get through with the utmost professionalism—and we’re using advice from Ninjas who have lived to tell the tale.
1. Disregard for Company Policies
Certain things can have a domino effect in the office, including disregard for company policies. As Office Manager Ruthanna S. explains, “A common issue I’ve faced in the past is one employee disregarding policy, and it having a ripple effect on multiple employees.”
Needless to say, people ignoring company guidelines is a recipe for repeated conflict. After all, no man or woman is an island, and it’s bound to ruffle the feathers of honest and ethical employees who like to play by the book (we know that’s you, Ninjas!).
2. Lack of Communication
It’s the behemoth at the root of nearly every single office conflict that arises: Lack of communication.
So many big problems could be avoided if everybody recognized the importance of keeping team members in the loop. But, unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world—and plenty of teams have less-than-perfect communications.
As the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School writes for Forbes, “Good internal communications helps employees feel trusted and connected to each other.” And if communication totally runs off the rails? You know issues and conflicts will begin popping up everywhere.
3. Misunderstanding of Hierarchy
There’s a chain of command in every office. But whether everybody respects and abides by that hierarchy is a different story entirely.
A misunderstanding of the pecking order in the office can be the seedling for numerous conflicts. “One issue I’ve seen come up a lot is people not knowing or understanding there is a chain of command,” explains Executive Assistant, Kiyomi D.
While a structured hierarchy might seem restrictive to some, it’s important. Not only does it help to maintain some peace in the office, but also gives employees a procedure to follow if conflicts arise.
You knew we couldn’t put together this list and fail to include office gossip, right? Pesky (and often negative) chatter exists in every office. And—as you may already know—it can be downright toxic.
Gossip is bad to begin with. But if gossip transforms into rumor, that’s when the you-know-what really hits the fan.
5. Mistrust of Teammates
There’s no law stating that you need to adore every single one of your colleagues. But there’s one element that’s absolutely necessary: trust. When employees don’t feel they can trust one another, it almost always leads to bad news.
As Virtual Assistant Melissa S. so eloquently explains, “Office conflicts are usually a sign of a lack of trust and teamwork. When you play on a team and trust the other people, you work, think, and act differently. It doesn’t mean that everyone is working at the same pace or level, but the mutual respect is apparent and conflicts arise less.”
So, how should you deal?
We’re willing to bet that you read through those scenarios and nodded your head at least once. They’re common for a reason—you’ve likely experienced one of those (or, ahem, all of them) in the office once or twice already.
Now that you’re aware of the five serial offenders, you’re probably eager to know your best course of action in dealing with them. Here are three different strategies you can use. And, no, they don’t involve crying, screaming, or any other reality-television-style drama.
Approach Human Resources
Whether a conflict directly involves you or you’re on the sidelines watching the action go down between colleagues, your best bet is usually to loop in Human Resources. “I always refer the issue to HR, or ask if I can pass on information on their behalf,” shares Ruthanna S.
Remember, your HR department is equipped and trained to handle these exact types of quarrels. They’re typically able to smooth things over to a certain degree. Plus, passing the conflict along is an effective way to stay out of the action. You don’t want to find yourself caught up in the issue if you weren’t even involved to begin with.
Talk it Out
If a conflict involves you directly (and doesn’t pose any major threats to the wellbeing of your company as a whole), you might choose to approach the other person to see if you can talk it out and reach a resolution.
“One of our company values is to not let problems fester. It can be uncomfortable, but usually, addressing the issue in a respectful and direct way is the best thing for all parties,” shares Executive Assistant, Willa G.
“It usually helps if you can let yourself ‘cool off’ before starting one of these conversations, but you also have to be timely and have the discussion while the person on the other side can still clearly recall the interaction that was an issue,” she continues.
“This was not something I felt comfortable doing at first, but I’ve seen the benefits firsthand. At the end of the day, no one is out to get anyone else and we’re all doing our best. These talks help people find common ground and work together, instead of letting personality differences prevail and ruin productivity.” Spoken like a true Ninja.
Some office issues are just too small or petty to continue getting worked up over (we’re looking at you, tuna melt-loving Angie). Or, sometimes it becomes clear that a resolution will simply never be reached—you just need to agree to disagree and leave it at that. In those cases, you’re better off taking a deep breath, letting it go, and moving on.
No, it’s not always easy. But moving on is likely best for both your sanity and the cohesiveness of your office. And when it’s obvious that a compromise will never be achieved, trying over and over again to fix things begins to resemble repeatedly banging your head against a wall. It’s a sad—but true—aspect of working in an office with other human beings.
Office conflicts are inevitable, and you’ll probably come across these five way more often than you’d like. However, it’s not always what happens that matters most—it’s how you react that really counts!
So, familiarize yourself with these scenarios and put these tips into action. You’ll be able to move on from that conflict with poise, professionalism, and your head held high.
What method do you typically use when you’re involved in a conflict in the office? Why do you choose to go that route? Let us know!