There is nobody who has not had problems at work, and these problems invariably involve one’s supervisor, co-workers or even boss. Workplace conflicts are common – but the skills to handle them adroitly are not. Many employees react to workplace conflicts the way they would in any social conflict situation – from the gut. This is inappropriate, because the dynamics or workplace relationships – and therefore the consequences of workplace conflict – differ from normal social situations.

There are a number of different factors to consider while handling conflict on the job. Obviously, the first is whether the tussle is with your co-worker (a peer) or your supervisor/boss (seniors). If your problem involves a co-worker and you feel you have a strong case, attempting to solve the problem with the concerned person should be your first approach. If this proves unfruitful, taking it to your supervisor is appropriate. On the other hand, if your issue involves your supervisor, you need to go above their head and place the issue before another member of the company’s management.

A word of caution on reporting a co-worker to your supervisor. Most workplaces have their cliques that often involve someone placed higher up. In the final analysis, humans are social animals, and the herd instinct percolates into all strata of human relationships. Before lodging your complaint or seeking resolution, ensure that your supervisor is not part of the co-worker’s circle. If he or she is, it does not mean that you have to take your workplace conflict elsewhere – however, it does mean that you have to proceed with greater caution. Mentioning the problem in a pleasant, professional and diplomatic manner, eliminating all traces of spite, will usually work.

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Your workplace conflict may involve someone higher up, such as your supervisor or manager. If so, lodging your complaint at the same level of the company’s pecking order is usually pointless. This is where the concept of hierarchy is an advantage to you. Schedule a meeting with the supervisor’s or manager’s immediate superior and plan your case in advance. Do not barge into the superior’s cabin without an appointment and launch into a tirade – you may get a hearing, but this approach is unprofessional and will get you nowhere.

The best way to schedule such a meeting is via email or telephone. Ensure that you do not lay out all the details of your workplace conflict at this point. Emails can be forwarded, and one-on-one telephone calls can be turned into conference calls with the touch of a button. The senior may decide to resolve the issue at once and rope the offending party into the discussion before you have had a chance to state your case. This could result in the workplace equivalent of a schoolyard argument, which would achieve nothing.

If you have any proof of unfair treatment (such as emails or memos) print these out before you make your case. You can also note down the time, date and a summary of events when you were harassed. If there is another co-worker who is willing to support your case in person, make sure that this person is available when you meet your senior. At all times before, during and after such an interaction, remain calm and professional.

A workplace conflict with the boss of the company can obviously only be addressed directly with the person concerned. Consider the attempted resolution of your issue with him or her the final test of your diplomacy skills and professionalism. It may be a good idea to scan the job market for other options before taking the problem up with your boss. If your issue involves unmanageable workload, an unreasonably low salary or lack of prospects and your boss refuses to meet you even half-way on it, you should be able to make a dignified exit.

Jappreet Sethi

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