Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace


Workplace conflict can be some of the most difficult because of the circumstances. Work is the place you spend the most time. You spend more time with your co-workers and boss than you do with your family at times. For those of us who work in an office setting, we're usually there every week day and sometimes more. 


Extended periods of time with people, by nature breeds two things: fondness and conflict. We either learn to enjoy people or come across things in which we don't agree or have issues with. This is normal. 

Let me help your unique situation with five principles that I've learned to be true about conflict. 


1. Conflict is neutral. It's important to remember that conflict isn't bad, nor is it good. It just is. To most, even the word conflict is terrifying and uncomfortable. Heck, even most definitions of conflict have a negative bend. However, conflict at its core is simply the differing of opinions or actions. How we respond to these differences is what makes conflict positive, negative or neutral. Come into the understanding that conflict always will be, in all scenarios, even in the best of circumstances. Settle your heart and mind on this and your outlook will be different.  

2. Wait for the appropriate setting. It's important for each person to know when to bring conflict up in conversation. Don't assume that you can bring conflict up at any time. At times, people aren't ready or even don't believe the conflict existed. A strategy meeting or staff meeting probably aren't the best times to bring these kind of things up. Ask questions first, then proceed.

Here are a few "conflict setting" questions to ask: 

  • Is this the time?
  • Is this a personal conflict to be addressed privately or a public one to address in a group setting?
  • Do I have the authority to address this conflict?
  • Are there systems in place to address conflict? Am I following those systems?
  • Are others aware there is a conflict?

3. Conflict style is important. Not all conflict needs to be addressed head on, bulldozer style. Here are five conflict styles that you should study and choose wisely in conflict situations. 

  1. Accommodating - Keep the ☮
  2. Compromising - ”Kinda Win/Win – Kinda Lose/Lose” approach
  3. Competing - There is a winner…me! You need this style for emergency or high-stress situations
  4. Avoiding - Avoid people or issue; delayed response
  5. Collaborating - “Win-Win” Attitude; let's do this together

Be sure to know which style to use in varying situations. No style is better than the other!

4. Learn to reflectively listen. Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: (1) seeking to understand a speaker's idea, (2) then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly with the right motive. 

Instead of saying, "I hear you," say, "Thank you for sharing, what I hear you saying is..." This step alone diffuses many negative scenarios because sometimes people just want to be heard. 

5. Celebrate resolutions. When an agreement is reached (not in position but in solution, short or long term)…acknowledge and celebrate. Make appreciation known and give praise to parties involved in coming to a solution.

6. Learn to apologize, the right way. Take ownership and admit fault when applicable. Build a rapport for being trustworthy and able to own up to mistakes. Say the following during an apology. 

•  I’m sorry.

•  I was wrong for ______.

•  Will you forgive me? (pause)

•  How can I make amends?

I hope these tips have aided in the navigation of conflict in the workplace. Remember, it's going to happen. You will have conflict. The x factor is how you respond to said conflict. The aforementioned makes all the difference!

Tolu Akande