If workplace conflict is an unavoidable hazard, empathy is our compass to navigate this conflict. Most of us understand the cause of conflict, which is a fact of life and occurs for a variety of reasons. We have differing perspectives, conflicting priorities, or cannot even agree on the definition of, much less a solution to, a common problem.

In a Psychology Today article, Mark B. Baer, Esq., says that many believe that for 90% of all conflict situations, misunderstanding is at the root. Misunderstanding can be the result of mismatched expectations or misperceived intentions, which lead to festering resentments. Disappointment over outcomes, the offhand, unintended offensive remark, unrealistic demands, etc., can permanently damage relationships and poison the workplace.

Often, in both personal and professional relationships, conflict might seem (or actually be) unresolvable. We’ve heard the aphorism, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” But that agreement is a copout. That pact gives conflict a shell of respectability. It freezes misunderstanding in the guise of tolerance.

Those involved in such a pact usually feel good about themselves, because they have ceded nothing. Parties to the conflict have mapped out their turf, chosen sides, and erected barriers to understanding.

In the first place, according to Baer, conflict, which arises from misunderstanding, “should be rectifiable through gleaning understanding.” In the second place, we can only reach that understanding through active empathy. Without an empathetic workplace, the seeds of understanding cannot flourish. Leaders cannot facilitate solving conflicts. Instead, they are arbiters or referees.

We believe that barriers to understanding can only be breached through empathy and the cultivation of an empathic workplace.

How Empathy Helps with Workplace Conflicts

Whether the conflict is intractable, or caused by a misunderstanding, according to professional arbitrator David C. Solinger, we are all connected as human beings. How we extricate ourselves from the negative, common journey of conflict can begin “by extending a simple benefit of the doubt to the other side.” In fact, successfully articulating the parameters of the conflict, its underlying misunderstandings, and the divergent points of view are the first, but not final steps in resolving workplace conflict.

According to Solinger, the heart of the matter is this:  “A moment of empathy may be the X Factor to the resolution of a dispute because it results in our taking a leap into the world of someone else…”

A few minutes of empathy can free opposing parties “from their own worst enemy—themselves.” Empathy is the process where we go outside our skin, even for a few minutes, to, “experience others from inside their own skin.”

Conflict resolution in the workplace without empathy is mainly a process of win-lose. The empathetic workplace, on the other hand, strives for win-win. We cannot get to conflict resolution without empathy, because without empathy, we can never acknowledge, understand, and agree that positive outcomes are more important than past grudges and misunderstandings.

We at Empathetic Workplace can help…

Empathy, we believe, is based on an ability to share emotion with others and acknowledge that our view and experience of the world is not the only truth out there. Empathy also requires jettisoning former tendencies of silence, secrecy, and judgment as part of our coping mechanisms.

Superimpose the foregoing into your workplace and you can navigate the inevitable conflicts that arise whenever good people have honest disagreements.