In addition to death and taxes, workplace conflicts are one thing every professional is guaranteed to experience. Whether it's disagreements between staff and leadership or arguments among peers, conflict is an unavoidable part of doing business and interacting as a team.
In fact, according to a study by CPP Inc., 85 percent of employees deal with conflict on some level. To get to the root of the problem, I spoke with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, head of the global network of more than 200 Shambhala Meditation Centers and author of The Lost Art of Good Conversation.
The Sakyong--which means "king" in Tibetan--gave a piece of advice that was simple yet profound: Before you speak with someone, internally acknowledge at least one thing you respect about them. "It could be the way they cook or their ability to sing," he said. "Whatever it is, rather than going into the conversation thinking that you're not going to like what they say, make it a positive experience."
How can we turn these interactions into positive experiences? It all starts with good leadership.
When conflict arises between leaders and staff
Quarrels between leadership and staff often arise when they have competing interests--which is common. Leadership is pressured to meet revenue goals, satisfy investors and build customer loyalty. Staff, on the other hand, may prioritize a positive work environment, balance and good compensation.
Establishing mutual empathy and understanding is the key to bridging these gaps, and leaders must create an atmosphere of open dialogue to accomplish that. "Whether you agree or not, employees need to feel like they're being heard and they've said their piece," the Sakyong said.
He added that leaders must first learn to listen. "There has to be a willingness to have that conversation and hear the other person," said the Sakyong. "Try and relate to what your employees are experiencing."
A couple years ago, an employee came to me about issues with our writing process. She made it clear that the system we were using had become bulky, overbearing and was hurting company morale.
Upon reflection, her feedback reminded me of some of the frustrations I had experienced as an employee earlier in my career. In the weeks following our chat, I made a major investment into overhauling our entire content system, and not only did it resolve the issue at the employee level, but it dramatically increased client satisfaction and our bottom line.
Easing tension among peers
In addition to leadership clashing with employees, workplace conflicts often arise among peers, too. According to a 2016 survey conducted by ICIMS, 12 percent of employees don't get along with their coworkers.
This can result in gossip, cliques, bullying, sandbagging and other characteristics of a toxic workplace. It can also deteriorate team morale, reduce productivity and create high employee turnover.
Too often, colleagues assume that if someone is a bad coworker, it makes them a bad person. The key here is preventing things from getting personal by encouraging each party to respectfully consider the other's perspective before they rush to judgments or conclusions.
A while back I had an employee come to me after getting frustrated with an intern who had missed the mark on a research project. In this instance, it was clear the employee told the intern what to do without providing context into why they were doing it--what the assignment was meant to accomplish.
I asked the employee to think back to when she was an intern and tasked with similar assignments, and right away I could tell that resonated. She went back and talked to the intern, and from that point on their collaborative efforts were more productive than ever.
"Just opening up the lines of communication can ventilate tension in the office," the Sakyong said. If you make open communication the norm in your office, employees will be less intimidated to directly discuss and resolve their differences.
Build a culture of positive communication.
Employers need to promote a company culture that makes everyone feel like their voice is being heard. If you're a leader in your organization, make sure you carve out time to check in with your team. If you feel like you're not connecting with a particular coworker, invite them out to lunch.
Communication is an essential part of the human experience, so we have to make the most of it. "Conversation is one of the main ways we navigate life," the Sakyong said. "Try to bring out the good in others, and ask yourself, what can we gain from these conversations?"
In the long run, maintaining an environment that encourages open conversation will create a space for team members to positively and productively interact. As an employer, this means less workplace drama and more synergy, collaboration and innovation.