No one likes to face work conflict. But if you can learn how to face it head-on, you’ll set yourself apart from the crowd and propel your career forward.
There’s one key people skill that could make the difference in your career.
You probably think I’m talking about communication skills. Nope. Strong communication is just a minimum requirement to be considered leadership potential at most companies. As are dependability and getting results.
Chances are you aren’t the only employee who hopes to advance in your organization. You’ve got competition. Even being hired on a fast track to management is no guarantee. That just makes the competition fiercer, because now you’re up against people as ambitious as you.
How do you stand out in an already ambitious crowd?
If you’re savvy, you’ll go several steps beyond the basics. You’ve already taken on bigger projects, sought opportunities for your professional development and made allies. What other actions can you take to set yourself apart?
How well you work with others matters as much as the ideas or results you produce. Indeed, as Issa Mirandilla says, “people skills are (almost) everything.”
You have to show you can work well with just about everyone. Yes, even with someone who might be difficult to get along with. Ultimately, leadership is about getting things done through others so they’ll give their best effort and want to work with you again.
You don’t get to choose your coworkers. Do whatever it takes to learn how to manage all your work relationships. Learn the one people skill that few master and many run from. If you learn and apply it effectively, you’ll raise your chance of getting on management’s high potential list.
Which skill is it? Conflict management.
A study on conflict in the workplace found that 85 percent of employees deal with conflict at work. One-third of those said they deal with it a lot. Almost a quarter of all disputes escalate. That’s a high cost to any organization and makes for work settings that are no fun at all.
You may be shaking your head about now. No, uh-uh, not me. I’m a conflict avoider. If that’s what it takes, maybe I should give up on trying to get promoted. Instead, try this:
See conflict as an opportunity, not something to avoid
(Click here to tweet this thought.)
Conflict is scary when it gets out of hand. The whole point is to learn how to handle it so it doesn’t. Use these four strategies to get positive recognition:
1. First, learn conflict resolution skills
Learn how to give effective feedback. Add active listening, group dynamics and behavior styles over time.
Together, these give you a solid set of skills from which to manage most work conflicts with confidence. Practice what you’ve learned.
2. Manage your own conflicts
You don’t always have to be right or prove you’re the smartest person in the room. Cultivate humility. Remain open to adjusting your ideas and including those of others.
Behave in such a way that everyone wants to work with you. Become the person management asks to lead the team or staff meetings. Balance task and relationship needs when you lead meetings.
When you have a disagreement — and you will — apply your best conflict management skills.
- Be hard on problems and soft on people.
- Search for mutually acceptable solutions.
- Manage your own emotions and defensiveness.
3. Learn how to nip conflict in the bud before it escalates
Even if you’re not the designated team leader — but especially if you are — help discussions stay professional and on track.
If an argument starts, nip it before it escalates. Say, “Let’s step back a second and review all the ideas so far.” Just saying this much stops the argument’s momentum. Now, you have some choices:
- Summarize ideas and suggest developing criteria against which to evaluate them.
- Offer a new idea that incorporates key aspects of the two under dispute.
- If you can’t think of one, point out the good parts of ideas in dispute and ask the whole group to brainstorm ways to bridge these.
4. Develop a good working relationship with your manager
You won’t always agree with your immediate supervisor, but if you want to get promoted, you do have to show respect. Take the “choose your battles wisely” mantra one step further. Instead of battling at all, have a dialogue instead.
Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. What pressures does she face? Why did he make that seemingly stupid decision? Offer feedback, but prepare to listen more than you talk. Present solutions, not just problems. Accept the fact that your boss gets to win more often than you do.
People skills really are (almost) everything. Among them, mastering conflict management can give you that extra edge that just might get you promoted ahead of your competition.
Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. is the founder of Conflict Tango, a blog where she shares more than 20 years of experience on how to handle conflict skillfully to empower creativity and innovation. She is also the author of Conflict to Creativity from A to Z.