People & Human Resources, Startup Advice

How to be less awkward after having a fight at work

Emma Koehn /

Two colleagues having a conversation

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Everyone knows you should work on your conflict management skills to successfully negotiate the tides of business, but are you able to eliminate the awkward factor once you’ve had a fight at work?

Writing in Harvard Business Review, consultant and former head of Global Manager Development at Google, Dolores Bernardo, says in all her years of helping businesspeople face tough conversations, the one thing that’s missing is knowledge about what to do after an argument.

In the spirit of getting on with things without hurting long term relationships, here are her three tips to proceed with grace.

1. Acknowledge it

People tend to want to forget about uncomfortable situations once they’re over, but in the world of business, this is a serious mistake, Bernardo says.

“My advice is to: a) proactively follow up, b) acknowledge that it was a tough situation, and c) focus on the positive,” she says.

This process could be as simple as sending an email note after a disagreement to thank a business partner or staff member for their feedback, or catching up later to acknowledge that while the situation is difficult, you want to work through it.

2. Try to discuss the positives

The disagreement has happened, so what are you going to do with it?

Bernardo advocates focusing on the next thing by trying to move the conversation into a broader perspective and longer term view.

“Be proactive in showing that you are resilient and solutions-oriented, and that you want to stay in the conversation,” she writes.

This means reiterating any decisions that you did make during a meeting, and keeping a written record of your progress towards solving a problem. Writing things down can not only move the situation towards solution, but also stop you from covering the same ground again later on.

“A written record also tracks any differences in perspectives, memory, or understanding, and prioritises accuracy,” Bernardo says.

3. Work for the ultimate long-term goals

“Remember that every interaction is just one human being talking to another,” Bernardo says.

Given that you will likely have to work with this person in the future, it might be worth putting the fight on hold to meet and discuss priorities for your partnership longer term.

Asking questions like, “What does success in this project look like” and “What outcomes are important to both of us?”, can help you see the endgame and work together without having any disagreements disrupt the success of your business.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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