Skills to Help Manage Conflict as a Patent Practitioner

After working hard to get your new job as a patent attorney or attorney, the struggle doesn’t stop there.

There is going to come a time in every employee’s life where they disagree with a co-worker. Top CEOs can’t escape it, neither can patent practitioners.

When conflict arises with team members at any law firm, though, don’t be caught off-guard. You can cultivate certain skills to help smooth over even the most tumultuous patent attorney coworker issues through conflict management and conflict resolution.

Understand what can cause conflict

As our good friend, Benjamin Franklin, once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The best way to manage conflicts is to prevent them from happening in the first place by seeing where they can arise and nipping them in the bud.

Experts offer a number of causes of workplace conflict, including:

  • Personality differences.
  • Workplace behaviors regarded by some co-workers as irritating.
  • Unmet needs in the workplace.
  • Perceived inequities of resources.
  • Unclarified roles in the workplace.
  • Competing for job duties or poor implementation of a job description—for example, placing a non-supervisory employee in an unofficial position of “supervising” a new employee.
  • Systemic circumstances such as a workforce slowdown, a merger or acquisition, or a reduction in force.
  • Mismanagement of organizational change and transition.
  • Poor communication, including misunderstood remarks and comment taken out of context.
  • Differences over work methods or goals or differences in perspectives attributable to age, sex or upbringing.

For example, your coworker feels their needs aren’t being met in the workplace. Because of their personality, they decide to employ snarky, passive-aggressive remarks concerning the boss rather than going to their boss directly. Because of this, the disgruntled individual not only doesn’t get what they want but now adds negativity into the office. It can bother you, the humble Joe or Jane-Doe just trying to do your job.

There are millions of ways conflict can arise. But that doesn’t mean they’re all bad. When faced with any issue, your attitude towards it can determine the efficacy of your response.

Recognize the Benefits of Conflict

Conflict facilitates change and restructuring. When it comes to two ideological viewpoints, it sometimes requires you to change your viewpoint. It’s about growth. If we didn’t have conflict, we wouldn’t grow.

Whether in the patent, law, business, or any professional field, conflict exposes workers to new ideas, teaches flexibility, leads to problem-solving behavior and a host of other positives. It’s a learning period for both parties involved.

But also understand the danger of conflict

While inherently edifying when seen from the right angle, unchecked conflict can lead to disastrous professional effects between you and your colleagues.

According to PM Study Circle, if you have unresolved coworker conflicts you face:

  • Low team morale
  • Impact on the authority of the project manager
  • More personal clashes
  • Low productivity and efficiency
  • Low quality work

Don’t let conflict ruin your career as a patent practitioner. Below are some tips to keep problems from getting out of hand.

Avoid behaviors that prolong conflict

A common one is a triangulation, which is talking to someone other than the person you have a problem with. Essentially, it’s venting your frustrations to someone who can’t change the situation.

While this gives you immediate relief, it does nothing to solve the conflict at hand. Unless you’re going directly to a higher-up for conflict mitigation for something serious like workplace harassment, then triangulation only continues the conflict you already have.

Just bite the bullet and sit the person down in an area where both of you can talk freely. But not too freely.

Keep it professional

This should be obvious, but it’s worth the mention. Don’t mention blatantly unrelated events your coworker did outside of work. Keep it business-oriented, keep it within the professional arena.

Understand all parties fully

Always make sure you and your colleague are on the right page. Sometimes it’s hard to get to the bottom of the issue but dig as deeply as you need to. The only thing worse than taking forever to solve a conflict is to prolong the conflict because of miscommunication.

Ask your coworker to explain their situation fully. Once they’re done, summarize key points they just mentioned and ask, “Did I get it all?” If yes, you may proceed to solving the issue at hand. If not, ask the question as many times as necessary.

Practice Assertive Empathy

You know where your coworker is coming from. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them about the issue you have with them, nor attempt to change their behavior to one that works for both of you.

Therefore, employ phrases such as the following:

  • “I understand you, BUT here are some things I wish you’d do differently…”
  • “I empathize with that. It’s still impacting our clients, though.”

By adding the preface of understanding or empathizing, conversation shifts from “me-versus-you,” to “us-versus-issue.” The most effective conflict management approach is the most collaborative.

Be humble

While it’s good to be assertive, understand when to give up a little bit and negotiate. This doesn’t have to relate to professional negotiations only; admitting the limitations of your personality can be helpful and even necessary (note that the first two causes of conflict in the PM Study Circle analysis are personality differences and irritating workplace behaviors). No one is perfect, but everyone should be open to constructive criticism.

Other tips to solve conflict:

  • Always speak face-to-face with the person you have a conflict While text communication allows both parties to think through what they have to say, it also lends itself to miscommunication. Humans rely on tonality and vocal pitch to receive messages, which you don’t get through text. Try to set up in-person meetings or at the very least video conferences to manage conflict.
  • Address conflicts quickly and efficiently. Unchecked issues quickly become workplace hydras.
  • Find ways for both yourself and your coworker to be held accountable for changes. It would have been a wasted effort if both of you go back to your old habits after addressing a conflict.
  • At the end of the day, if you and your colleague still have issues with each other, it might be best to hire a professional workplace mediator. It’s their job to handle such conflicts and make sure everyone goes home happy.