When faced with conflict at work – try this…

Faced with conflict at work - try thisYou know the scene. No doubt you have been one of the actors at one point or another.. One person gets cross about something. Often, a misunderstanding. There are a flurry of instant messages or emails, increasing in hostility. And then, suddenly, you’re in full blown conflict. You seek out supporters for your case, as does the other person. Meanwhile, the initial cause of the conflict is often long forgotten.

When faced with conflict at work – try this..


Often conflict occurs because there is a misunderstanding. Someone has misread or misinterpreted an email or text. And it goes from there. If this is you, rather than react, try this first. Get up and find the person. Say to the person – “this is how I have interpreted your email, is that what you meant?” Or pick up the phone. Usually – the person will  say, “goodness no. Sorry if that is how you have interpreted it.”  Read this post on how email can cause havoc.

Unmet needs

Other times, a conflict occurs because one person wants to do something that is at odds with the other person. The second person thinks the first person is wrong. This can cause a whole spiral of thoughts and emotions: “she’s always doing this, she is so selfish. She only thinks about what works for marketing.”  Now, there may be instances where this is indeed the case. But sometimes, it is an unmet need that is causing the person to behave that way. In that instance, taking some time to think about “why” the person may be acting that way can often provide an insight or compassion that enables us to take a pause and think about the best way to handle the situation given that new information.

Clash of priorities

In other instances, it is a clash of personal or organisational priorities that is causing the conflict. This may need to be escalated if you can’t find a way to resolve the difference. But make the escalation about the issue rather than the person, and try to involve them in the solution. “How can we collectively find a way to solve this so that we can both meet our priorities?”  Sometimes it is about being brave and calling out how a clash of priorities will impact the organisation more broadly.

Just being an asshole

In some cases, the person causing the conflict is just not pleasant. And will go out of their way to cause conflict. It is much rarer, but if you have someone who intent on wreaking havoc, it’s a deeper conversation about whether that person is a good match for the organisation. And if the organisation has no intention of resolving it, then it is a question for you as to whether the organisation is a good fit for you.

Lack of skills in dealing with conflict

Sometimes the issue is that people shy away from conflict, and will try to find workarounds rather than address the issue upfront. In some cases this is because they lack conflict resolution skills. In some instances it is that they lack the emotional intelligence to be able to resolve the issue. In some instances, it is a lack of self confidence or self belief. If this is the case, there are readily available tools to enable a team to contract with each other around how to manage conflict. And some great development available around clearly and articulately speaking your mind and being clear on your boundaries.


  • When you think back to the last few instances of conflict at work. What was the root cause of the conflict? And how did it escalate or get resolved?
  • If you’re reluctant to address conflict at work – can you pinpoint why? Can you identify what the impact of not addressing the conflict is?
  • Thinking back to the instances you identified above, would one of the suggested approaches above have assisted to resolve it?


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See you next week,



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