Disagreements with co-workers are undesirable but inevitable, especially on teams that work closely together on a day-to-day basis. While some argue that a little bit of conflict in the workplace is healthy, as it can lead to innovation and enhanced creativity, it is essential to address any disagreements before they get out of hand, with potentially devastating consequences on team morale and productivity.
To help, these seven entrepreneurs share their top tips on how to handle workplace conflict in a respectful and productive manner.
Keep your cool.
"The key to productively handling disagreements is to separate the facts of the situation from the emotions and the stories we tell ourselves," says Blue Corona President and CEO Ben Landers.
Focusing on the observable facts and taking emotion out of the equation can help you view things objectively, leading to faster conflict resolution. "Once I found myself accusing my co-founder of being a jerk via email," Landers shares. "When I stepped back and viewed things objectively, I realized the issue was not really his email, but the story I told myself the second I initially read it."
Give all voices equal weight.
It's crucial to truly listen to all sides of the story, according to Michael Averto, CEO and co-founder of ChannelApe: "As a decision-maker, it is sometimes hard to not just declare a decision without listening to others. But it is your responsibility to act in an unbiased manner before providing judgement."
Averto ensures that both sides have an equal voice to present their arguments, even if he's one of the parties involved. "When I have done this in practice, I've often found the other party was right or had points I didn't consider."
"This is especially important as the boss because you don't want your employees to feel they can't disagree with you or need to have a 'boss is always right' mentality," says Jennifer Buonantony, CEO of Press Pass LA and PPLA Social + PR.
To make employees feel comfortable discussing any points of contention with her, Buonantony starts by complimenting them on what they do well before giving feedback for improvement. "It's also important to seek honest feedback on how we interact and how I'm doing as a leader," she adds.
Focus on corporate culture.
According to OneIMS President Solomon Thimothy, a strong corporate culture is crucial to handling disagreements. "Our company lives by this rule: When somebody pushes you, they only do it for the sake of the team," he shares.
Thimothy explains that his team spent a lot of time cultivating trust and healthy responses to criticism, so acute disagreements hardly ever happen. "If it's the opinion of one against the opinion of many, that one person needs to surrender," he adds.
Bond through jokes.
Use humor to build strong bonds between co-workers and, in doing so, make it easier to de-escalate potential conflicts. DevriX CEO Mario Peshev recommends this fun and lighthearted approach.
"We mess around a lot at the office. While not effective for every personality, jokes do balance out critical feedback and relieve the tension," Peshev explains. "Building a culture of free speech that leaves ego behind helps you focus on data-driven decisions and discussions revolving around statistical information."
Pick another perspective.
"Often with arguments, it's 'he said, she said,'" notes Kim Kaupe, co-founder of The Superfan Company. That's why it is essential to seek to see things differently when attempting to defuse a conflict.
"To solve disagreements, I try to reframe the question using a different perspective: 'What would the client think?' or 'What does the consumer think?' or 'How will our vendor react?' Force everyone out of their own shoes (where they obviously think they are in the right) and into a third-party perspective," she advises.
Accept that reasonable minds can differ.
Jared Weitz, founder and CEO of United Capital Source Inc., also accepts that there are multiple perspectives at play: "I always take the approach that reasonable minds can differ." This helps you respectfully acknowledge a team member's thought process and differing opinions.
"Recently, when discussing a group incentive with my sales manager, we differed on the best way to motivate the group," Weitz shares. "But by hearing one another out, we came to a resolution that produced the best results."