Office spats? Not fun, so try these tips to resolve conflict and strengthen your programming team.
Heated arguments, walk-outs or other dramatic scenes are an unfortunate reality in many offices. But they’re not the only signs there’s a conflict brewing among your programmer colleagues. Anyone who’s been around the block knows that tensions express themselves through silent treatment, sloppy work and a general lack of support between team members. Any or all of these can affect your mental health as well as the general climate in the room. Not to mention the quality of the job you’re doing for clients and employers.
No one likes having to deal with this kind of stuff – we’re all professionals, not to mention adults. Many of us feel like we should be above all this. But the problem remains: we’re not above being human. What’s more, most of us are working in high-stakes environments where we’re encouraged to be constantly on the ball and highly productive. We can’t afford to be derailed by spats or weird office tensions, yet that’s exactly where many of us find ourselves time and again. Which is why it’s so important to address this.
Working with conflict is never simple, but we at UpTeam understand that striving for a healthy work culture benefits everyone: the company, the clients and the team members working on the ground. So if you’re not getting along with certain coworkers, try some of these proven tips to transform conflict.
Speak to be understood
Here’s a cliche that needs repeating: most of our arguments are over words. Meaning that, in many cases, heated conflicts crop up when people use the same term very differently. Especially when describing (or pushing one’s vision of) highly-charged concepts like quality, values or duties.
We attach a lot of meaning to these kinds of words. And we easily end up in vicious fights when we don’t realize we’re using them differently. But just as it’s easy to land in this kind of conflict, it’s also easy to diffuse them if they’re nipped in the bud: clarify exactly what you mean and ask your colleague how they understand the issue at hand.
Defining your terms doesn’t just apply to the things we say – sometimes we communicate one thing with our words and another thing with our body language. If your colleague is giving off strange cues with their body, ask for clarification or if you’ve said something confusing or inflammatory.
Conflicts become far easier to solve once you’ve cut through the words and have actually reached the issue at hand, which takes us to our next point…
…address the issue they’re actually trying to solve
If someone’s dug their heels in or seems unreasonable, chances are high that the issue you’re fighting about touches on an important position, a personal value or even feels like a personal attack. And in the heat of an argument, it’s easier to see what they’re fighting against (you, your values, your ideas) rather than what they’re fighting for.
Switching that around can transform the whole discussion. Sit on your ego for a minute and ask questions like “what’s the issue that I’m not seeing?” or “what’s at stake if this task isn’t done the way you’re proposing?” This helps you see what they’re actually trying to defend, and it reframes the conversation as a collaboration rather than a fight. Maybe there’s something important that you’re not seeing – if that’s the case (and if you admit it) then they’ll be much likelier to try to see your side of the story as well. This also builds rapport in a relationship that’s been damaged, which can come in handy as other tensions arise.
These kinds of conflicts can be made worse if the people involved have very different roles on the team. If they’re the only one in charge of a certain task, then they may feel responsible for defending it because, well, no one else will. Take these nuances into account when trying to figure out the actual issue at hand.
Know the difference between a “safe space” and a “brave space”
People need different things at different times. For example, teams sometimes need to be stimulated to produce top results for your clients’ projects (consider this a “positive push”), but at other times they need to be supported.
This kind of support is essential and can be offered through what conflict resolution experts call a “safe space,” even if that kind of terminology can come off as weird or weak in high-stakes professional environments. Regardless, you need to know when to push your team members (creating what’s called a “brave space” where people can produce, stretch themselves and try new things) and when to hold them up. Try to keep a finger on the pulse in the room and see if your colleagues are fighting (or generally not gelling with you) because they’re frazzled, overwhelmed or lack bandwidth.
Sometimes a fight isn’t about you – it’s about whether or not your team has what they need to thrive and produce great solutions while balancing mental health and well-being. If they see you as a person who constantly pushes them, they’ll take you less seriously because you don’t actually see the circumstances they find themselves in. But if you pay attention and figure out when they need a “safe” or a “brave” space, then you’ll be seen as more credible – and your “pushes” will be more welcome because you’ve proven yourself to be on their side.
This is only the tip of the iceberg – there are dozens of ways to address why you’re not gelling with your team. Conflict and tension can sometimes be productive, but make sure that you take care of business before things get destructive or distract your attention away from your clients’ projects.