10 Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Workplace conflict is extremely common, but it needn't boil over into counter-productive frustration or violence.
Workplace conflict is extremely common, but it needn't boil over into counter-productive frustration or violence.

Workplace conflict is an unavoidable consequence of professional life. Some people are magnets for conflict, while others manage to avoid at-work tangles with co-workers for years. But eventually, everyone has run-ins with someone on the job.

Conflict is anything but rare. Some sources indicate that human resource managers spend 25 to 60 percent of their time working through employee conflicts [source: Zupek]. And a University of North Carolina study showed that more than half of workers said anxiety about a past or present conflict with a co-worker cost them time while they were on the clock. More than a quarter of workers said they were less productive because they spent time trying to avoid a confrontation with a co-worker.

What's more, violent confrontations are increasing. A Society of Human Resource Management study found that more than half of workers said a violent act had occurred at their workplace [source: Zupek].

Of course, work-related conflict should never manifest itself in those kinds of extremes. Understanding how to deal with tense work situations will help you avoid rare violent outbursts. You'll also better understand how to navigate office politics and become more successful.

There are multiple styles of conflict resolution. The different styles aren't necessarily better or worse, but they are very different. Experts have pinpointed five primary conflict resolution styles -- avoid, accommodate, collaborate, compromise, and confront [source: Gatlin, Wysocki and Kepner].

Supervisors generally default to one or two primary conflict resolution styles. They can afford to leverage their position to use their chosen style of resolution. Lower-level employees may need to use more styles of resolution in order maintain productive relationships and a comfortable work environment.

How well you understand conflict resolution can have as much or more impact as your professional job skills in determining the trajectory of your career path. Berate or belittle your opponents and you'll encounter enemies at every corner -- earn the respect of co-workers and you'll find limitless opportunities.

In this article, we'll address 10 ways, listed in no particular order, to help you deal with conflict when it arises at work.