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  • Writer's pictureJuliana

Workplace Conflicts and How To Resolve Them Using Nonviolent Communication

Conflict in the workplace is almost inevitable. With power dynamics, different personalities, limited resources, personal issues, and miscommunications, it is a wonder how anyone gets any work done sometimes. My guess is, if you are reading this, it is likely that you have had a conflict within your place of employment at some point in time, if not currently - and if we are being realistic, it will probably come up again. So how does one safely navigate these situations to get back to connection and productivity?

Nonviolent Communication. If you're new here, Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, is a common thread on this blog. And I think it is probably your best shot at resolving any workplace conflict. Here's how.

The founder of NVC, Marshall Rosenberg, used to always say:

"All conflict is a tragic expression of an unmet need".

This is true in the workplace as well. We all have universal human needs, and when we don't get those needs met, often instead of recognizing that's the case, we blame, judge, and end up in conflict with others. Understanding that all conflict stems from needs is the first and arguably most important step in resolving the conflict.

From there, it's all about digging down deeper to find the needs, and the best way to do that is through empathy - empathy for other and empathy for self. So when you have a conflict with a colleague, instead of blaming, judging, or even trying to solve the problem, first try to give them empathy. Check out this blog post on how to empathize for a 5 step guide to giving empathy. Giving empathy to someone you are in a conflict with is not easy, though. Sometimes you might feel so triggered that you can't be in a space to give empathy. When that happens, try giving yourself empathy first. Once you are very clear about what your needs are and what the other person's needs are (the person you are in a conflict with), then and only then can you start thinking about strategies to resolve the conflict.

But here's the thing: most people skip that step I just mentioned. They go straight to strategies and problem solving, but they often have no idea what needs the strategy is supposed to satisfy. When that happens, the strategy isn't a true resolution because someone, if not everyone, walks away with unmet needs. This is why empathy is key. From a very practical standpoint, empathy gives us a clear view of the unmet need, but additionally, it helps people connect with each other. When true connection happens, feelings of anger tend to dissipate. Sometimes (definitely not all times), empathy is all a conflict needs to resolve itself.

Okay so once you have empathized with the other person and you're clear on needs, then what? Well, it's time to come up with strategies. This part doesn't have an exact formula because all issues are different. Some are quite simple, with simple solutions, while others are complex and require creativity to solve. One rule of thumb, though, is to come up with solutions together. When both parties are invested in coming up with a solution, it is more likely that that solution is going to meet the needs of both parties.

But it can't be that easy!

That's because it isn't. Well, conceptually it is more or less as I've spelled it out, but in practice, there's a bit more to it. For example, staying away from blame and judgment is actually much trickier than one might think. Part of working through conflict is being able to talk about it in observational terms. Many people have trouble with this, especially when they are angry, frustrated, or annoyed. Their language tends to move towards evaluations like "these meetings are not efficient", rather than sticking to the observations, which might sound something like this: "When we had our Monday morning meeting this week, I noticed that we spent 20 minutes trying to pin down a time for a meeting next week."

One blog post is not nearly enough to give a thorough guide through nonviolent communication and how to use it to solve workplace conflicts, however, you can become trained in NVC through this course. You can even train your entire office and become the business that everyone wants to work for. I work for a business in which every single employee is skilled in NVC and there has never been a workplace conflict that we have not been able to navigate with care, consideration, kindness, and respect.

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