Workplace disagreements are not uncommon. Employees spend a considerable amount of their professional life alongside co-workers and supervisors. The average full-time employee works an estimated 2,080 hours per year in their 25-to-30-year career span. For law enforcement personnel, 2,080 hours underrepresents the actual hours worked, as the value does not account for overtime. Thus, employees may experience disagreements in the workplace at some point in their careers. Some of these disagreements will involve a difference of opinion that may result in a heightened sense of emotion.
Workplace conflict may have a positive or negative outcome, depending on how it is handled. Some workplace conflicts will require the intervention of a manager or supervisor when the issues pertain to violations of policy or the employees do not feel comfortable resolving the issue without a manager’s or supervisor’s involvement. Employees who elect to resolve workplace conflict without supervisor or manager intervention should do so professionally and in a manner that opens the lines of communication and optimizes conflict resolution. Ultimately, unresolved conflict negatively impacts employee morale, including productivity and the overall workplace environment. An unpleasant or hostile work environment is associated with higher employee turnover, call-ins and decreased productivity. When handled professionally, collaboratively and in a timely manner, there are positive benefits to the employee and the entire unit. Conflict resolution may lead to feeling heard to the degree that it may enhance belonging and inclusion in the workplace.
Effective communication strategies are critical in problem-solving conflictual situations — for example, being aware of two types of communication modes, verbal and nonverbal. While one might think that oral information is most important in conveying a message, nonverbal communication is essential. Nonverbal communication may include body language such as facial expressions, gestures, touch, space, body movements or postures that express approval or disapproval. Additionally, word choice, tone of voice, how information is conveyed and the timing of the information are also essential. How the information is communicated affects how the other party receives the information. For example, sharing disagreements but showing care and concern verbally and nonverbally helps relay the message that the individual cares about the resolution of the conflict instead of delivering the message in a way that sounds condescending, disrespectful or disapproving.
We have conversations all the time, but not all exchanges have a difference of opinion. While some people do not struggle with sharing a difference of opinion, some do. A difficult conversation involves strong emotions and opposing viewpoints, and the outcome or stakes may be essential or high for at least one of the parties involved1. Not all employees feel comfortable engaging in a difficult conversation with a co-worker. When electing to have a difficult conversation with a co-worker, having a safe, supportive and encouraging environment is vital to the discussion’s overall outcome. Showing care and concern for the other party and focusing on the problem and not the person is a great starting point. A strategy to begin talking about the problem is identifying the issue and providing an example. You may want to share why you are having the conversation in the first place, how you feel about the situation, its impact on you and others, and your desire to resolve the issue. You will want to invite your partner to respond to your concerns by sharing their thoughts about the situation. Also, ask questions in an open-ended manner. It is helpful to use active listening techniques, reflection and paraphrasing. Not all conversations will resolve conflict, as there may be a disagreement in viewpoint at the end of that conversation. It is essential to remain professional, courteous and respectful with the parties involved. Remember, people may not remember what you said, but they will never forget how they felt due to that conversation.