Conflict Resolution: keeping heads cool for better decision making

Cropped shot of a group of businesspeople having a serious discussion in the office

Conflict is an ever-present hurdle in any busy workplace. It is an inevitable consequence of people working together in one place. Whether it be personalities colliding, workload stresses, or procedural disagreements, conflict resolution is experience that every EA needs to keep things running smoothly.

Office conflict can be attributed to a multitude of changes in the way people work and what is expected of them. An ever-increasing emphasis on downsizing leads to less people doing more work, an obvious cause of frustration for individuals and offices as a whole. The increasing demand for high quality customer/client services, while clearly a benefit to business, can also send tempers flaring, with difficult customers creating a whole other realm of conflict for company reps and sales people.

Conflict is an unhealthy element of the workplace, and naturally any problems within the office will always rise to the top, creating increased and undue stress on your already busy executive. It’s imperative that an EA has the right skills to handle conflict and reduce the impact that it has on both the executive and the office as a whole.

Identifying conflict and areas that it tends to arise is key in its prevention. Knowing which environments or situations breed conflict can help the EA prevent, or even mitigate issues that can blow out to something much larger as tempers boil over.

Misunderstandings and miscommunication are, without doubt, a fundamental area in which disagreements and arguments can begin. Despite efforts of any executive or office manager to give clear instructions in their various directives, it is always possible for individuals and you, to interpret the message differently. Therefore, it is always important to sit down with your boss and discuss anything that you might find unclear, or even somewhat open to interpretation. It may seem like a time-consuming practice, but in the long run, knowing the process before a project starts is always faster than discovering mistakes during or after its

Knowing when and where a disagreement or miscommunication can arise is the key skill to have. A good EA can foresee conflict not through some magical affliction, but a solid foundation of knowledge of your staff, their personalities, their responsibilities and their standing among each other. Not just knowing, but understanding the people you work with is the best way to guarantee the prediction of contest and conflict.

Conflict can take a multitude of different forms, each with a resolution that is different from the last. It is important for the EA to have a variety of skills available to apply to a problem, and knowing which of them will work best for which situation.

Communication is key. It’s a cliché, but always worth repeating. Knowing not just when to communicate, but how to speak to one another is the most important element in coming to a resolution.

Talk with, not about people. Offices can breed drama and hearsay, take a step forward and speak to people about issues, don’t let gossip spread and toxify an office. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Take note of your inflection when resolving a disagreement, and ensure your language is non-accusatory.

Separate the personal from the professional. Know that you are here to work, not to defame one another. Ensure the debate stays on topic at all times. Find the root of the issue. Often a problem is not what it appears on the surface. An argument about a trivial matter may represent a more significant conflict.