Career Advice Professional Development

How to Handle Conflict With a Fellow Intern

Erin Davis
By: Erin Davis
Sep 8, 2020 • 7 min read

How to handle conflict with a fellow intern

Conflict, while working as an intern, is a very tricky situation. Despite the position being temporary, it should be handled similarly to those of full-time workers. The idea of being an intern is to learn the ins and outs of a workplace environment, and that includes more than just the job. No one should go looking for conflict and drama, but it does happen. In situations where people are passionate about what they are doing, whether that be a project or a presentation proposal, tensions can be high. It could even be as simple as who is going to clean out the fridge at the end of the month. Here is how to handle conflict that may arise with your fellow intern. 

fellow intern

Handling uncomfortable situations

The typical steps to overcome these uncomfortable situations for interns should be the same as a normal employee. However, since it is a new and temporary situation, more caution should be taken. There can also be a whole different set of tensions when it comes to internships because there is more to learn and more at stake. At a younger age, students can be more apt to get upset about small misunderstandings, and it is crucial to not let this affect the work.

Is this just drama, and can it be avoided?

Sometimes people simply do not get along. This is an entirely natural issue to have, but it should not affect the dynamic in the workplace. An office or any other public working environment is not the place to begin talking about people behind their backs. Everything should remain professional and drama free. If someone seems to be talking about you to other people in this manner, it would be best to ignore the issue altogether. This is an easily avoidable instance in which only the person speaking poorly will look bad and unprofessional. Especially at the intern level, this is extremely important and critical to the success of the internship. Employers look at the focus and drive of an intern, but they also look for soft skills such as being a team player and handling conflict in a mature manner.

fellow intern

Ask and understand the other point of view

All sides of the story are essential. You have to understand that people have other things going on in their lives. There is more than you know to many situations. People are very complex. By asking why someone’s reaction was a certain way, why they said something, or how your words made them feel, you can understand more about the situation. These are the types of questions that you may have already answered in your head and came to conclusions about. However, you don’t know the true explanation. Getting to see a situation from the other point of view can foster empathy and help to find the root of the conflict.

Honest and consistent communication

From this initial conversation, it is vital to maintain this discussion. One conflict can lead to another, and people can accidentally repeat mistakes. Checking in with your fellow intern and asking how their experience has been lately can be a great way to continue this conversation. Being an intern can foster some competitiveness, especially if there is a promotion or job opportunity at stake. Checking in on each other and creating this friendship is an ideal way to get rid of this hostility and have open communication. This would also help to share information and experiences between the two interns. This would then enhance the team atmosphere and overall internship.

Workplace policies or conversation to find a solution

If the conflict is more serious or difficult to solve, you can also refer to a manager or workplace policy. Most companies have a policy outlining the chain of command or the typical way to go about filing a report or dealing with an incident. It is important to go through this process to handle the situation maturely and adequately. However, this is only in severe conflicts such as sexual harassment and other matters. If a mentor is part of the internship practice, this could also be an excellent option to turn to. They may be able to give more insight into how the company typically handles conflict to help you better solve the situation.

fellow intern

Find a Mediator

If the situation is not this serious, there should still be a conversation between the two parties to come to a solution. Sometimes a mediator can be helpful, which again could be a manager, mentor, or even an unbiased third intern. Looking at the situation and talking it out as previously discussed will lead to some sort of solution. This solution could be an apology, a new understanding, or even a change in the organization of some sort. Every solution depends on the situation at hand, but it should be a permanent solution brought about through honest communication. If both parties remain honest and understanding, they will be able to find a satisfying solution for the remainder of the internship.

fellow intern

Carry this knowledge into the future

The final step to handling a conflict with a fellow intern is to take this information into the future. Internships are meant to teach lessons, and this lesson of conflict and working with various personalities is essential to success. If an intern can adequately handle conflict, an employer will be impressed by their maturity and emotional development. That is why conflict is often the topic of an interview question. Conflicts can be between friends, family, coworkers, or interns, and each should be handled with the same basic communication skills as outlined here. Keep in mind this specific experience to share with future employers when that interview question comes up. Also, be sure to avoid repeating this process in the current internship experience because it may be more challenging to settle a second time.

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