In many cases, workplace conflicts result from unmet expectations. You have one set of expectations. The people around you have a different set of expectations. No one has any malice or ill intention towards anyone else. They just expect a different set of behaviors, actions, and results.
When expectations go unmet, emotions tend to rise. When emotions rise, conflict tends to happen. With that thought in mind, I offer these three practical tips to reduce the risk of workplace conflicts that spiral out-of-control:
1. Clearly Defined Roles
This idea normally shows up in a list of requirements for a well structured performance management system. Today, I will give you another reason to take positive steps to ensure that the people around you clearly understand their role in relation to you.
By defined role, I mean that both parties (you and the other person) have a clear understanding of what both of you will do with regard to any task or project that you work on together. So, this could apply to a supervisor-team member relationship or to a relationship between two co-workers.
Take the time to clearly define your respective roles, and you minimize the possibility of destructive conflicts later.
2. Clearly Defined Timelines
Take the time to ensure that both of you agree to and understand the delivery dates and timelines for completion on any task.
In my past life as an engineer, I worked on plant start-up projects of all sizes. The ones that went well had well prepared project completion milestone documents. The ones that went poorly, did not have the same level of pre-planning that created the milestone documents. In other words, the ones that went well had a way to make sure that everyone on the project knew what was due and when it was due. The ones that went poorly did not.
These projects were usually pretty complicated with regard to the number of people and tasks that had to be coordinated to complete the project on time. So, they needed elaborate flowcharts, Gantt charts, and Critical Path diagrams to keep them on track. I am not suggesting anything this complicated for a one-on-one situation. I am suggesting that we learn from these projects, and that we apply the principles to our personal lives.
When I was a young engineer, I thought the planning and document preparation was all about scheduling the tasks. Now I realize that planning and scheduling on large engineering projects is about scheduling the tasks AND about creating clear lines of communication. I now realize, that the people part (communication) is actually the bigger reason behind the time invested in the planning process.
I do not want to go overboard with the idea and suggest that you need a Gantt chart for everything you do with other people. I do suggest that you take the principle of clear communication to avoid conflict and apply it to checking and double-checking with other people to ensure clear, mutual understanding about expected timelines and delivery dates.
3. Open Lines of Communication
In my work with clients, I see that miscommunication leads to a large number of workplace conflicts. When you recognize miscommunication as the source of many conflicts, you can take proactive steps to prevent conflicts by investing your efforts into clear communication practices.
Take the time to make sure you have created a safe environment for people to approach you. Go out of your way to create opportunities to connect with the people around you. If you will work diligently in this area, you will make the previous two ideas easier to accomplish. As a result, you will significantly reduce both the number of conflicts that occur and the time it takes to resolve them when they happen.
I wrote this post mainly from the perspective of application in a workplace scenario. I hope it is clear that these ideas, applied in slightly different ways, also apply to other areas of life.