Conflict Management on the Job: Doing It Well Can Benefit Your Career

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With lives on the line, health care has always been a work setting that’s prone to conflict. But after nearly two years of a global pandemic that has filled hospital beds to capacity and beyond, respiratory therapists and their colleagues are worn out, stressed, and in some cases, ready to snap at a moment’s notice.

Blowing up at work, though — whether it is over a technical procedure, staffing issue, or interpersonal relationship — is never a good idea, and the more you find yourself doing it, the lower down the list of promotable staff members you will go.

A better idea is to learn how to handle workplace conflicts and, hopefully, diffuse them before they get out of hand. Your managers will take notice, and you’ll look like someone with the even temperament needed to lead others.

Here are six tips for making that happen —

Hit the pause button: Let’s say you just witnessed a coworker deviate from departmental protocols when delivering a treatment to a patient. Your first thought may be to insert yourself into the situation and deride your coworker for their lapse in judgement. Take a moment first to determine what happened and why it happened, and then consider how you can approach the coworker in a positive rather than negative way to correct the error.

Use your communication skills: When trying to resolve conflicts at work, keep your voice calm and level and use words that frame the conflict in an objective way rather than as a personal attack on the other person. Explain your position in clear and concise terms and in a friendly manner that will help your coworker open up to you about the conflict rather than shut down or get defensive.

Listen: It may be tempting to dominate the conversation when you truly believe you are in the right, but don’t. Give your coworker plenty of time to explain their side of the situation, then open up your own mind to take in that explanation and consider how it fits with your own perception of things.

Stand in their shoes: Try to understand where your coworker is coming from by looking at the situation or the problem from their point of view. Show them you are trying to understand their position by acknowledging how the issue is making them feel and why they feel that way before sharing your own stance on the problem and why that is your opinion on the matter.

Look for middle ground: Conflict usually arises when someone has decided that their own way of thinking or doing things is the right way and the other person’s way is totally wrong. But nothing is so black and white. Consider where the gray areas lie in the conflict and how both parties could possibly meet in the middle.

Brainstorm ways to solve the problem: No conflict ends without a solution to the problem, so bypass all the accusations and get right down to coming up with ways to resolve the issue. Ask your coworker what they think should be done to remedy the situation and offer your own ideas as well. Create a collaborative atmosphere without innuendo or blame to determine how the conflict can not only be resolved now but can be held at bay in the future.

Conflict management isn’t always easy, but staying calm, cool, and collected when situations arise is always the best answer. Even if you don’t come out ahead in the actual debate at hand, you will come out ahead in your manager’s eyes for demonstrating the kind of characteristics crucial to a good leader.

Find more stories on professional development from the AARC here.

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