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How to. . .Deal with office conflict

Workplace rows are hard to avoid, but they also use up time and energy.

Making a habit of clashing with colleagues can make you look decidedly unprofessional. But sometimes, there seems no alternative to sorting out differences of opinion if you want to get the job done.

So what's the answer?

First, it is important to establish where healthy conflict ends and negative rowing begins. Psychologists agree that conflict is endemic to human life and disagreements are inevitable. And it is getting worse. A survey carried out by online recruitment firm Monster.co.uk found that nearly two thirds of UK workers have reached boiling point in the course of doing their job.

According to Dr Liz Mellon of the London Business School, engineers are no more or less likely than anyone else to find themselves in the middle of an office row. However, their technical training may lead them to look for a cutand-dried solution when flare-ups do occur.

'Engineers have specific training, which means that if you have a problem, you can work out a solution, she says.

'And they are great at assembling data and finding out what the right answer is.

'The trouble starts when they apply this to people, and thinkthey can find the right answer in the same way. With personal conflict there isn't one right answer, so you are setting yourself up for further conflict.'

Jeremy Sims, online stress expert at monster. co. uk, says that communication and compromise is the key: 'At one extreme are the people who put up and shut up, and at the other are those who come out with guns blazing, ' he says.

'Neither strategy is effective and you should seek to alleviate the cause in a way which is beneficial to both sides.'

Engineers who ignore this advice run the risk of facing fully fledged 'office rage', a by-product of our high-stress, long hours culture, warns Dr Angela Hetherington, clinical director of workplace counsellors Personal Performance Consultants: 'Unfortunately, office rage is often directed at the wrong people when employees do not feel they can express their anger directly at its cause - whether it's a top boss or an office policy, ' she points out.

'Trying to manage such outbreaks takes its toll on everyone and a persistent rager can wreak damage on the whole organisation.' Tactics suggested by Hetherington include: talking it through with other colleagues, giving clear guidelines about acceptable behaviour at work and drawing up an action plan to deal with the conflict.

If all this sounds dauntingly touchyfeely, Mellon has some words of comfort. Dealing with workplace dissent is hard work and means thinking clearly, communicating with colleagues and sorting out a workable compromise. But as long as you sort out the problem which caused the argument in the first place, keeping a stiff upper lip is a perfectly viable approach. 'Sometimes, it is best to behave as if nothing has happened, ' she says. 'It helps to normalise the situation.' Music to the ears of engineers everywhere.

Top tips

Don't assume there is only one solution

Think about the other person's point of view

Take time to cool off and get over your anger

Make sure you tackle the cause of the conflict

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