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4 Steps to Deal with a Coworker Conflict Professionally

Updated: May 10, 2019

two men on computers and phone

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a long day and your coworker is getting on your last nerve. You always seem to be at odds with this person. But this time it’s really affecting your ability to do your job. Plus, you’re stewing about it off hours too. Before you have that epic meltdown you’ve been daydreaming about...

Read on for how you can resolve a conflict with your coworker professionally and keep your sanity in the process.

Check your assumptions

“Why is he/she doing this?” You’re probably coming up with some "not-so-nice" reasons why, in your own head. He’s incompetent. She is lazy. They are trying to annoy me.

But none of these are likely.

Making assumptions is the best way to make yourself angry for no good reason. Pretend (even if you don’t believe it right now) that this person has the best intentions. Here’s an example:

Hi Joe,

I didn’t see your additions to the status spreadsheet that we agreed to update on a weekly basis.

If you overlooked this new task, no problem. Just wanted to give you a heads up.

Explain how it’s affecting you

If the problem persists, keep assuming the best about your coworker. Ask polite questions that help you understand their point of view. Then explain how their behavior affects your work. Keep it friendly and helpful. For example:

Hi Joe,

Just wanted to remind you that I need your additions to the status report today. Let me know if you’re having any trouble collecting the data. I need your input generate the client report that’s due tomorrow. Please let me know when it’s ready.

Don’t let it get worse

Let’s say in the example above, Joe doesn’t fill out the spreadsheet for three weeks in a row without you reminding him. You might be thinking – “See, I was right! He’s lazy!” But again, this is probably not the case. Joe might have many other responsibilities, and this is low on his list.

It’s important to you, but not to him. Rather than sending emails that get more and more passive aggressive (and getting more frustrated), it’s time to talk. That takes us to our next tip.

Talk it out face-to-face

Sometimes, technology escalates communication problems. If you’re already frustrated, an email will likely come as angry or patronizing. Joe might not even realize you’re annoyed. Then he’ll get a strongly-worded email from you and think, “Geez. What a Jerk.” If he’s not very professional, he might ignore your request just for spite. Then you have a bigger conflict on your hands that’s harder to resolve.

How do you initiate the conversation?

You could casually stop by his workspace or schedule a meeting. If you’re not in the same location, a phone call is still better than an email or instant message. You want to come across as friendly and open. Here’s an example.

You: So, Joe, I wanted to talk about the status spreadsheet.

Joe: I know, I know I’ve been bad about completing it. I’m sorry. It slips my mind.

You: I totally get it. It’s one little task among many. It’s just that the client reports are a critical part of my job and I’m at a standstill if I don’t get your input. It makes the company look bad if they’re delayed or missing information.

By expecting the best of your coworkers and checking in with them about misunderstandings,

you can avoid most problems. Don’t let technology get in the way of authentic human relationships.

Just remember:

  1. Check your assumptions

  2. Explain how their behavior affects you

  3. Don’t let it get worse

  4. Talk it out face to face

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