How to Resolve a Disagreement with Your Coworker
By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half
Lately, my coworker and I have been disagreeing over what I consider to be minor matters related to a legal project we're both assigned to. Any tips on resolving differences and getting back to a productive, working relationship?
First of all, it’s not surprising that you’ve had this encounter. The legal profession is well-populated with people who have strong personalities. If you and your coworkers all have firm convictions and unrelenting drive, you may find yourselves clashing instead of meshing. Here are some ways to harness the energy in your workplace for the better.
Keep calm and carry on
Whether signing a new client, sifting through discovery or seeing a case to court, legal professionals need to connect and collaborate with people at every turn. If you want to succeed, you can’t simply stop work on a project over a minor disagreement with a colleague. If you can, agree to disagree, agree on how to move forward and revisit the source of tension once the job is over. If you can’t, ask your manager or HR rep to mediate your dispute.
Listen before you leap
Disagreements happen, but you can prevent them from escalating by taking the high road. If you and a coworker are talking over each other, take a momentary rest and allow them to speak. Listen carefully to what they have to say to clearly understand their point of view. Good, professional behavior is infectious, meaning there’s every chance your colleague will return the favor once they’ve had their say.
Assume good intentions
Low-key quarrels can intensify if the parties start suspecting each other of having hidden agendas or malicious intent. Most of the time, however, people have more benign reasons for disagreements, such as stubbornness or not wanting to look weak in front of others. Try to see things from your colleague’s perspective and assume they’re acting in good faith unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary.
Forgive and forget
Regardless of your approach to resolve the dispute with your coworker, it’s important to let bygones be bygones — even if you remain convinced you were in the right. Apply what you have learned from the disagreement, assume that your colleague will do the same and move on. This is not only the civilized, professional thing to do; it’s also in your best interests. Managers value employees who can put personal feelings aside for the good of the team and may give them choice project assignments as a result.
Collaboration and conflict are facts of life for legal professionals, but you should never let the latter upstage the former. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but with a bit of patience and practice, you can be someone who listens, learns and strives for harmony in the workplace.