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How to Handle Office Arguments

October 21, 2014

By: Terri Williams

Conflicts are an inevitable part of life. Regardless of age, race, location, or relationship, take two people, put them in the same environment, and it’s a matter of when – not if – conflict will occur.

Sometimes, conflicts are good. Many of mankind’s greatest inventions were the result of visionary people who disagreed with the status quo or the accepted methodologies and procedures, and sought out new formulas, designs, techniques, and processes.

However, sometimes conflict is the result of coworkers who just don’t get along, or it may be one argumentative person who disagrees with everyone. Before you can squash an office argument, you need to identify its root cause and determine if it is a valid source of conflict.

Asking the combative parties the following 5 questions can assist you in this process:

1) Are you listening to the other person? Some office arguments are the result of a simple misunderstanding. One party assumes to know the other party’s stance. As humans, we like to be right, and we like to argue our case. As a result, sometimes we start arguing before the other person even finishes what they’re saying. So, if there is a argument between John and Jane, ask John to explain the problem, and then ask Jane to explain the problem to be sure that they’re on the same page. Jane may like to listen to music, and since John always tells her to turn down the volume, she assumes he is an old-fuddy-duddy who just doesn’t like her musical taste. However, John is a sales rep, and the music poses two work-related problems: he can’t hear when he’s on the phone with a customer, and it may sound unprofessional to have high-energy music blaring in the background during a sales call.

2) What is your intent? Is this a personal attack, or is it grounded in objectivity? Is there bad history between the two parties? Are these just two strong-willed individuals? Going back to the John and Jane example, even if there is history of previous conflicts, John appears to have a legitimate reason for asking Jane to turn down the volume on her music.

3) Do others feel the same? Is the conflict just between these two coworkers or are other people involved? If other people work in John and Jane’s area, it may be helpful to ask if they are bothered by Jane’s music. If yes, the case is even stronger in John’s favor. If no, you’ll need to gauge if it’s because co-workers are seated further away from Jane, or maybe they are not on the phone as often as John.

4) What is the end result of this conflict? Is it decreasing productivity? Is it lowering morale? When John is on the phone, is the irritation evident in his voice? Does he try to rush customers off the phone? Are customers frequently asking John to repeat himself? These are issues that can affect the company’s bottom line, and should take precedence over someone’s desire to listen to music at work. Jane may say that she works better with music in the background, but that does not override John’s reasonable expectation to a moderately-quiet work environment.

Now, it could be argued that when John talks on the phone, he is disrupting Jane, and perhaps other coworkers as well. However, his disruption is directly related to performing his job.

5) Where can we compromise? The goal is to create a win-win situation, so neither side feels slighted. Perhaps Jane could wear headphones or earplugs while listening to music so John can’t hear it. If no one else in the area appears to be bothered, maybe Jane or John could find workers willing to swap cubicles with them so they can be located as far away from each other as possible. Or, John and Jane could agree on phone and music times. For example, John places all of his daily phone calls before noon and Jane does not play music during this time. If the other coworkers say John’s phone calls are disturbing them more than the music, maybe he can use a conference room or some other available location when he’s talking on the phone.

Conflict and office arguments are inevitable, but can be managed in way that demonstrates fairness and objectivity.  It’s important to respect the opinions of both parties and present opportunities for employees to work as a team to find a solution that they can agree on.

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Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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