Good communication skills are key to success in any financial advisory practice. And communication skills are essential to handling conflict in the workplace, says Rosemary Smyth, business coach and owner of Victoria-based Rosemary Smyth and Associates.

In most cases, conflict arises from misunderstandings regarding roles and responsibilities, Smyth says. Learning to handle conflict in a positive way diffuse tense work environments. It also can help build self-respect among employees.

Smyth offers the following tips on handling conflict in your office:

1. Choose your battles
The first step in dealing with conflict is determining whether a colleague’s behaviour is a minor annoyance or detriment to your practice.

“Choose your battles when recognizing which conflicts need to be resolved,” Smyth says.

For example, if your assistant is consistently late to work, ask yourself: Does this habit affect my client relationships, or is it a harmless behaviour that can go unmentioned?

2. Ask for clarity
Sometimes, resentment and frustration can build simply because of inefficient communication.

Learning to express your thoughts clearly is a vital communication skill that takes practice, Smyth says.

For example, if another advisor asks you to “take care of things” while they are away, Smyth says, relieve the stress and pressure of the situation by asking your colleague to spell out the necessary responsibilities.

3. Keep calm
“Calmer heads always prevail,” Smyth says. Choose a time to discuss conflict when you’re not angry or dealing with other emotions.

Smyth recommends taking a deep breath or counting to 10 before doing or saying anything. It’s important to be in a calm frame of mind when initiating a conversation regarding a conflict, Smyth adds.

4. Use positive language
Make it clear that you’re acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint when discussing a contentious issue.

“I hear what you’re saying,” is a helpful way to respond to the other person, Smyth says.

Also, using “I statements” as opposed to “you statements” may help resolve tensions.

So, if your marketing assistant publishes a controversial blog post, you might say, “I didn’t approve that content” as opposed to “you posted content without my permission.”

This is the first part in a two-part series on handling conflict. Next: Resolving conflict with a client.

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