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I don’t know what’s worse, arguing with a colleague or a significant other. They both come with a huge plate of stress, served with annoyance and grief.  But while they are both a pain,  it’s clear which one can directly affect your performance and career trajectory.  Most work conflict isn’t due to personality clashes but instead, rooted in issues of communication, process management and unclear expectations. Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry, most of the conflict I’ve witnessed over time, could have been avoided by considering the following tips:

1. Manage expectations: Most work conflict often stems from a lack of clear communication which leads to assumptions and misunderstandings. Manage up to your boss or down to your team with clear expectations about what you will and will not do, or what you can and cannot do given your capacity. As you begin to work on a new project, be sure to dig deeply into your specific responsibilities and the responsibilities of your teammates. Doing this on the front end allows you to avoid a serious misunderstanding down the line.  Most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell your team when you’re struggling. If you need help on an assignment, or instructions clarified once again, ask for help! Some of us find ourselves in unnecessary stress because we want to wear the superwoman “S” on our chest instead of seeking support.  Forget the superwoman cap and be real about your human limitations.

2. Appeal to our collective humanity. Your boss is human. Yes, believe it or not, he or she often feels stressed, overwhelmed and anxiety about performing on the job.  The people you work with are human and they laugh, cry, and have feelings just like you. Make time to truly get to know one other. Perhaps you could start each meeting with a personal catch up time. What are their plans for the weekend? How’s their family? You never know the outside stress someone’s bringing into the workplace. Finding time to share these stories creates a deeper sense of partnership, camaraderie and collaboration.  It will also help you avoid an argument that at its inception had nothing to do with you.  Ever got in an argument with a co-worker who just got dumped? Yeah, it’s not pretty.

3. People are less inclined to be antagonistic to those who generally give off a good vibe.  As author David Brook’s cites in “Social Animals,” ninety percent of emotional communication is nonverbal.  Gestures not only help us express our feelings but further constitute them. If you don’t want to be known as the wise cracking “b&*ch” then why are you always rolling your eyes and sucking your teeth? No one wants to work with someone who’s always contrary and carries an attitude like it’s her purse.  Find your joy and bring it to work!

4. Think before you speak: Sounds so simple right? Well, it’s not. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to pop back with a quick retort, or throw up your hands in exasperation.  Next time you’re frustrated, politely excuse yourself, take some deep breaths and reflect on your role in the conflict. Accept your blame and instantly begin thinking of solutions. Staying in the center of conflict is like quicksand and you will get no where.  Instead of moping in the mess, reflect and get ready to resolve like a team player.

Want some help putting these tips into action? Consider the below.

Tips in practice:

  • Start team meetings with a “High & Lows” section where team members share one good, and one bad thing happening in their life.
  • When you begin working with a new team/boss create a separate meeting to describe your working styles. (Do you communicate better via email or phone? Do you work better in the morning or evening? Etc )
  • Establish a monthly happy hour/team outing. Rotate venues to provide an inclusive atmosphere to account for the diversity of thought and perspective in your team.
  • Identify a ‘safe’ space in your office.  Pick a secret corner, bathroom stall, elevator etc that you can retreat in moments of heavy conflict. Use this space to help you cool off.

Jovian Zayne is a writer, photographer and occasional radio co-host in New York City. Read more from Jovian on her personal blog Word Up Haay! Join her on twitter via @jovizi for laughs, encouragement and your daily dose of quick wit.

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