Handling Conflict in the Lab

Handling Conflict in the Lab

In many workplaces, including labs, you spend many hours per week with coworkers. While this can lead to fantastic collaboration, creativity, and even friendships, when spending this much time with a diverse group of people it can also lead to conflict. It is inevitable that at times you will find yourself annoyed with your labmates or maybe even the PI. This can be detrimental to your work, but not to worry, with these tips you can resolve conflict and get back to doing the work you love in a productive environment.

Address problems right away

Maybe someone brings a weird smelling lunch everyday or a colleague takes that one pipette you set aside and labelled for yourself. With small aggressions like these, you may be motivated to try to ignore them for as long as possible, letting your annoyance build up beneath the surface. Instead of letting things compound until you reach a breaking point, maturely address problems as they arise. This will make things much better in the long run.

Talk it out

Most conflicts can be handled by a quick, calm, honest conversation. Talking things through is the best way to solve problems without needing to get others involved or by reacting too emotionally and causing hurt feelings.

Don’t burn bridges

You can’t choose the people that you work with, but you can choose whether or not to maintain relationships with them. In times of conflict, it may seem best to throw in the towel and write the person off forever. However, you never know what will happen in the future and who you will be working with again. Put in the effort to solve conflicts and maintain relationships rather than letting temporary problems get in the way.

Remember, you can’t take words back

In the heat of the moment it can be easy to say hurtful things without thinking of the consequences. Before you tell your PI what you really think about their decision, pause, take a deep breath, and consider how what you say will be received. The way you say things has just as much impact as what you say, so be careful with word choice and avoid personal attacks that are not related to work.

Be self-reflective

When involved in a conflict, of course you can recognize your side of the situation and why you are obviously right. But, it is an important skill to be able to think about others and how and why they may be perceiving things differently from you. It likely is not that they are crazy or dumb or have bad intentions, they likely have had different experiences that influence their point of view. Taking this into account can help you find a situation that will be satisfying to everyone involved.

Be transparent

Talking about someone behind their back to a fellow colleague almost always ends with the person finding out and becoming very upset. This creates a toxic environment and puts people into uncomfortable situations. If you are upset with someone, talk to them directly rather than airing your grievances to someone else in the lab, but if you have to talk about it, vent to a friend or loved one when you are off the clock.

Don’t let the fear of conflict hold you back

In an effort to avoid conflict you may find yourself holding back at work. While it might be possible to be silent and reserved for the entire project, this will be damaging in the long-run. First, the project itself will run much more smoothly when everyone is on the same page and working together. You never know when you might need help and you want to have existing relationships before it’s time to ask for things. Additionally, you might have valuable skills or ideas that could solve problems for a labmate, but if you aren’t open to communicating, these ideas will go unheard. Additionally, forming relationships with colleagues is important for networking and can open doors for you as you progress in your career. Fear of conflict should not hold you back from building relationships with colleagues, by being respectful and proactive you can handle any problems and reap the benefits of these connections.

We hope this tips help you to maintain a healthy, productive lab environment. Have your own conflict-resolution tips? Share them with us on Twitter, @conserisapp. Happy collaborating!

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