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4 Tips for Handling Disagreements at Work the Professional Way


Your workplace should be an environment where you're able to grow professionally and work towards your career potential—and handling a disagreement with a coworker in an unprofessional way can tarnish that. Whether you work with a ton of people or you're on a team of three, it's impossible to like everyone you work with all the time, and disagreements are bound to come up. Read on for some important tips about handling arguments with your colleagues the professional way!


1. Keep it between the two of you

If you're arguing with a coworker, try to keep the details between the two of you. The last thing you want is for other people to get involved, and gossiping at work is unprofessional. There's also a chance that it might turn into a game of telephone, and details about the argument will become muddled and untrue, therefore potentially starting another fight.

"It's best to just confront them face-to-face if there is a disagreement," says Isabel Calkins, a digital marketing fellow at Bully Pulpit Interactive. "The number one rule is not to talk about him or her to your colleagues—even if the other person is [breaking that rule]."

If you're feeling stuck and need advice on how to handle the situation, try to approach a family member or friend outside of work to get their take on it. It's always helpful to talk to someone who has gone through the same thing, and an unbiased person who is hearing the story for the first time may be able to offer some tips on how he or she would approach the situation.

2. Leave your boss out of it

Unless it's absolutely necessary (if there was a threat made or the unrest involved harassment of any kind), try to keep the details of the argument out of your supervisor's ears. Your boss expects you to be able to act in a professional manner at the workplace—employers do not hire employees that they think will become liabilities. 

"Try not to involve your manager if possible," says Mara Hyman, a marketing coordinator at CBS Boston. "You don't want your boss to associate you with conflict and not being able to work as a team. I would only communicate your feelings to a superior if there is a serious situation that is getting in the way of you doing your job, such as verbal harassment."

If you must let your manager or a higher-up know about the disagreement, make sure that you do it in a professional way. Have the details of the story ironed out and don't place blame on anyone. Speak from an unbiased point of view and let the person you're talking to know the cold hard facts. Perhaps your supervisor can act as a mediator and you can better resolve the disagreement with a third party. 

Related: 6 Signs Your Workplace is Toxic (& How to Deal)

3. Do your best to work things out

You're going to come across people who have different opinions than you, and that's fine. But sometimes differences in opinion can drive a wedge between people. Do your best to work things out with a coworker who you may butt heads with, and try to find similarities between the two of you. You may even end up friends!

"I think the key to handling a professional disagreement is determining where you have common ground," Mara says. "If you're working on a team project, for instance, find what works and make that the focus. Remember that it can actually be a strength to work with people that have different perspectives and experiences because it will only help your company grow."

If you feel like something is wrong, don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and speak up. It's always better to hash things out than to let them stew.

4. Take a minute to cool down

If an argument is particularly heated, don't continue to argue right then and there. Take a moment to cool off and collect your thoughts so that you both can come back and work things out with clear heads.

"I got into a disagreement recently," says Julianne, an intern. "We talked everything through so that we both heard each other out, and I suggested that we step away for a bit to gather our thoughts. We came back together a few minutes later and were able to settle on an agreement."

We all know that we achieve better results when we don't try to hash out a fight in the heat of the moment. People say things that they don't mean, and it can bring up a bunch of other things that have nothing to do with the matter at hand. If you feel like things are going to spin out of control, take a step back and think about why you are upset, what you want to say, and how you would like to move forward.

Disagreements in the workplace happen, but if you deal with them in the right way, you'll be able to diffuse any coworker scuffles in a professional manner.

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