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Dealing with Workplace Conflict

Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it or not. And so, the ability to be able to bring a swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well

Putting your head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective tactic for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself. In fact, conflict normally escalates if it is not dealt with proactively and properly. What might have been a non-event

can manifest itself into a monumental problem if it is not addressed and resolved early on.

Take, for example, the colleagues who use emotional deceit as a weapon of destruction. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover-up their shortcomings. These are the drama kings and queens who, when confronted about wrongdoing and/or their lack of performance, are quick to point the finger in another direction. They are adept at using emotional tirades which often include crocodile tears, blame shifting, little lies, half-truths and other trite manipulations

& deflections to get their own way. The only thing worse than them is the manager who doesn’t recognise this for what it is and does nothing about it. Good managers don’t play favourites – they won’t get involved in drama – and they understand that ignoring conflict will impact on others.

While conflict is a normal component of any social and organisational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how you choose to deal with it. Concealed, avoided or ignored – conflict will fester – it will grow into resentment and create factional squabbling.

Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, remuneration issues, someone having a bad day – all create conflict. Just about anything and everything can create conflict. But, at its roots, most conflict is born out of poor communication or the inability to control emotion.


If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered in the past, you should recognise that many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information or misinformation. Clear, concise, accurate, and timely communication will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts.


Another common mistake made in workplace communications which leads to conflict is allowing emotions to drive decisions. Have you ever witnessed a colleague throw a fit of rage and draw that regrettable line in the sand in the heat

of the moment? If you have – what you observed was somebody indulging their emotions.

Differences in thinking and philosophy exist between people by our very human nature and, no matter how much we might wish it wasn’t so – it is. So, the challenge then becomes how to effectively deal with conflict when it arises. It is essential for organisational health and performance that conflict is accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. Whilst having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilisation of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependent upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution and, more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter.

The following tips should help you handle conflict in the workplace more effectively:


Having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behaviour is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decision making, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help to avoid conflict. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what is expected of them and a well-articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help to avoid conflict. You should clearly and publicly make it known what will and will not be tolerated.


While you cannot always prevent conflict, the secret to conflict resolution is conflict prevention. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. In addition, if a conflict does flair up, by dealing with it quickly, you will minimize its severity. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will also help to avoid unnecessary conflict.


You need to understand the motivations of others. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking action that will help others best achieve their goals, you will find few obstacles will stand in your way.


Pick your battles. Avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough - and there is enough at stake – people will naturally do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional and/or philosophical gaps.


Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent capacity for growth and development. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like-minds can’t even imagine. Smart leaders will always look for the upside in all differing opinions.

To conclude – resolution can normally be found where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener and numerous other approaches will always allow you to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. However, when all else fails and conflict is festering – resolve it – not by playing favourites but by doing the right thing.

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