Turning Disputes into Decisions

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You won't always get along with every coworker in your office, so what should you do to ease office tension when conflict arises? This article offers advice on how to manage conflict in a respectful and productive way.

"It's a bug!"

"No! It's a feature!"

"C'mon, you’ve got to be kidding! How can it be a feature? It's just wrong!"

"Rubbish! You just can’t understand it. It's supposed to work that way!"

And so saying, my developer colleague walks off in a huff shaking his head at my supreme 'thickness'. I, on my part, throw my hands up in exasperation and mentally shudder at the utter lack of usability that has been built into the product.

That was me, half a decade ago. I was only two years old in the industry and was still finding my feet. I had idealistic views and a very black-and-white concept of what was right and wrong. I did everything by the book and was easily appalled at what I considered was deliberate dodging of issues on the part of my colleagues. How could anyone act so narrowmindedly? Wasn't customer king?

In time, however, I learned my lessons. I started getting along well with my team mates and even began to enjoy the occasional debate with them. There were still heated discussions at work, but no longer was I upset and stressed out. No longer did I feel hard done by, unfairly treated or sorry for myself. So what had changed? Easy: my perception of 'correctness' and my ability to manage conflict.

As testers, we have the antagonistic job of pointing out deviations from expectations. Many a time, situations can get ugly and poison the work environment, affecting performance. Because of this, we need to be able to manage and resolve conflicts well, both those involving us, and those taking place amongst other team members, to ensure that the end product does not suffer and it is not our customer who bears the brunt of these differences of opinion. Now I have some thumb rules to ensure that I don't get riled when things go wrong. I'd like to share these with you.

Disagreeing outright and abruptly with someone, even if you think they are talking a load of rubbish, is not the smartest way to get your work done. Psychology teaches us that ‘No’ is not a word many people want to hear, especially if they feel strongly about something. It is the quickest way to alienate yourself from others. Instead, try listening closer for a change. When the other person feels that you are genuinely interested in hearing what he has to say, he will reciprocate the gesture and therefore be more accepting when you offer a counter-argument. Hear out the other person fully, then begin by nodding your head and a gentle 'Yes, that's right. Have you considered...' If he feels you are respecting his views, he will respect yours. Surely if someone is vehemently defending a point, there must be a reason for it. Credit your colleagues with some intelligence! Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the situation from their perspective. It may be possible that you have not considered a different angle or alternative possibilities around the issue.

Attack the issue not the person
We all have certain impressions about the people we work with. We don't always like all of them, there are some with whom we get along better than with others. However, at the time of conflict, personal prejudices must be kept aside. You need to project the right image. Come across as a professional who finds the point of contention and its subject matter disagreeable, rather than the person who is delivering it. Drag meandering issues back to the topic of discussion and stick to it. Never ever introduce

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