Ask the intern: How to deal with conflict in the workplace
“Hi Laetitia, I’ve been assigned a group project with a few other interns, and there’s been quite a bit of tension between us because we have very different ideas and work habits. We can’t seem to agree on one strategy or way of working, and this is slowing us down. I’m a bit nervous to go to my boss about it because it seems silly and juvenile, but I don’t know what to do as we aren’t getting anything done. Have you had this problem before? Do you have any advice about how to deal with conflict at work? Thanks, much appreciated 🙂 – Walter”
Hi Walter, your situation is definitely relatable, and I’m sure many people have disagreed with colleagues at some point during their international internship. Conflict can arise with other interns, colleagues or even your boss. It can be hard to stay professional in these situations, but it is important to remain calm and try to resolve the problem. Remember that you are in a place of work, and you will get a bad reputation if you are constantly arguing with colleagues. However, it is healthy to have a bit of discussion, and you will learn a lot by hearing conflicting viewpoints. Here is my advice on how to act in situations of conflict.
How to deal with conflict at work or at your internship
1. Avoid it if you can
If there is a way to avoid conflict, then opt for that. This doesn’t mean that you cannot express your point of view, but don’t persist if you know that it will end up in an argument. As an intern, I think it’s important to get on well with your colleagues, since you can learn a lot from them and they will most likely have more experience in the field than you. Of course, if you feel undermined or ignored by your boss or workmates, do speak up and let them know, but do not cause arguments unnecessarily.
2. Understand their point of view
The most important thing to do when in an argument is to stay calm. It’s important to be passionate about your point of view, but there is a fine line between passion and aggression. As an intern, your colleagues will not know you very well yet, and could potentially misinterpret your dedication. If someone disagrees with your idea or strategy, then try to understand their point of view before arguing against them. It is important to understand both sides of the argument, as this will help you form a well-rounded opinion on the matter. If your colleague or fellow intern is the one initiating the conflict, then make sure they see that you are trying to understand their point of view. If you are not clear about this, they may think you are disregarding them, and this will just create a bigger conflict. Don’t lose your temper as this will make you look juvenile and unprofessional.
3. Don’t make it personal
The conflict is happening in the workplace and is about work, so don’t drag in personal issues. You need to stay professional and keep the discussion strictly about work. It is irrelevant to start attacking the person, and this will just add to the argument. If personalities or work ethics clash, then defend yourself without attacking them. Discussion in the workplace is healthy, and oftentimes can stimulate new ideas and a fresh way of thinking, but you don’t want to fall out with your colleagues over a personality clash.
4. Find a solution
The best thing to do when in a situation of conflict, is to find a solution to the problem. Teamwork often requires compromise, so be the bigger person and try to resolve the argument. Try to look at the conflict from the outside, and propose an idea that includes elements of both sides. Make it clear that you want to agree on something, and ask your colleague to work with you rather than against you. You should also stress that you need to find the strategy that will be best for the company and channel both your ideas towards that end goal. If you are too invested to find a solution, then take the situation to another colleague and get them to help you. Whatever the outcome, you will be demonstrating initiative and maturity by striving to find a solution.
5. Learn for next time
As with everything, you can learn from this experience. If the conflict arose because of a lack of communication, then make sure you know this for next time. It is a good way to learn more about your colleagues and how they work, so keep this in mind for future teamwork activities. This will give you a better idea about how to approach them and work with them, which will make it easier to do group work in the future. It is important to have closure and ensure that everyone is on the same page, so always clear the air after an argument. Suggest going for drinks or bring them a coffee as a way of starting afresh. Your colleague will appreciate the gesture and will in turn be more cooperative next time.
Above all remember that no conflict is worth falling out with your colleagues, and if you feel someone is being unfair, then bring the issue to your boss or even The Intern Group program coordinator.
I hope you manage to work things out Walter!
Photo 2. by The Intern Group.
Photo 3. by The Intern Group.