No one likes arguments in the office. Maintaining optimal brain power throughout long hours and suffering through emotional labor can already be exhausting enough, and tiffs in the workplace can just add more emotional stress on top of that. However, disagreements are a natural part of working with an array of different personalities, work ethics, and beliefs, so we might as well learn how to traverse them in the best and most efficient way possible.
Unfortunately, women have it even tougher in the disagreement arena. It’s a catch 22—we’re labeled as too brazen if we openly disagree, but too insecure or weak if we hold our tongue and don’t stand up for ourselves. So here are some tips to help you voice your opinion in a calm and professional manner. Whether it’s due to conflicting leadership styles or differing work habits, untying knots in the workplace flow is an art you have to practice.
Where would we be as a society if everyone was always agreeable anyways? Here are 8 tools you can use to discuss difficult issues more effectively:
1. Stop thinking of arguments as arguments.
Think of them like discussions instead—view it like a learning opportunity and a chance to gain a new perspective. Because after all, the issue that you think is an issue, could really be just a classic case of misunderstanding. And if it’s a real problem, staying calm and collected like you’re having a normal conversation will only help your case.
2. Remember that the point isn’t always to change your colleague’s mind.
The point is to voice your opinion, find some common ground, and be able to work with each other without any hard feelings and bitterness. You don’t have to agree with everyone you work with; you just need to get along.
3. Don’t ever bottle up your feelings.
Bottled up feelings brew resentment, pun intended. If it comes time to discuss an issue face-to-face with a colleague, all of your pent-up anger and frustration will come rushing out in the form of a screaming match. Try to address a problem as soon as it comes up.
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4. Always approach your colleagues face to face to discuss an issue.
Absolutely no angry blow-ups over Slack or email. Yes, being confrontational can suck, but it’s necessary. Make sure you take a deep breath, leave your ego at the door, and open up your listening ears in a private setting with the colleague you’re arguing with.
5. Clearly and carefully outline why you’re in disagreement.
If you’re confused or offended by something, let the other party know clearly and calmly. It’s important that you leave no room for interpretation or miscommunication—that can only escalate discord further.
6. Never, ever gossip about your disagreement with other coworkers.
This can lead to a seriously toxic work environment with everyone taking sides and being pitted against each other. Gossip usually spreads like wildfire—and no one wants their coworkers whispering behind their backs—so cut the blab to make sure you’re handling the situation in a respectful and professional way. But...if you’re going to gossip at work, make sure you do it the right way.
7. Be okay with agreeing to disagree, but know when to take it to HR.
You’ll most likely have to work with people who have completely and totally different viewpoints than you at some point in your life, and that’s okay—it’s important to be exposed to different viewpoints. If your disagreement is over something that won’t really affect yours and the company’s well-being in the long-run, let it go. But if your disagreement is more serious (e.g. claims of harassment), don’t hesitate to involve a third party like HR.
8. Prevent disagreements in the first place by always asking for feedback from colleagues and superiors.
It’s super important and helpful to know the areas in which you’re killing it and those you could improve on. Decide on a recurring schedule to sit down and figure out if everyone’s reaching their goals and highest potential. If you already know what to work on, you can hopefully avoid some grudges and animosity.
9. If you’re the boss, create an honest culture and encourage open communication.
Try to build strong relationships with your team and help them in times of distress. No one wants to work in an environment filled with darting eyes, petty huffs, and hostility towards coworkers.
So next time you feel an argument developing, use these tips to resolve conflict quickly and respectfully—we all deserve a productive and courteous working environment.
By Cara Hutto
Born and raised a Tar Heel, Cara is a culinary aficionado and zealous writer consumed by wanderlust. She's passionate about women's issues and interviewing inspirational women in her community.