Handling Conflict in the Workplace

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Handling Conflict in the Workplace


Realize that some conflicts are inevitable at work.

Whenever people are committed and fired up, or change and new ideas are emerging, conflict and disagreement are bound to happen. This does not mean you have to revel in conflict or create trouble just for the heck of it, but it does mean that when conflict happens, it’s not the end of the world. It can be the beginning of an interesting learning process. Conflicts mean that people care enough to disagree strongly. The trick is not to allow the conflict to go on forever.


Handle conflicts sooner rather than later.

Resolve a conflict when it starts, as it only gets worse with time. Conflicts at work arise not from something that was said, but from something that wasn’t said! Everyone’s waiting for the other to admit he’s wrong and gets more unpleasant after the conflict has stewed for a while. It’s essential to interrupt the “waiting game” before it gets to that point.


Ask (nicely).

If somebody has done something that made you angry, or if you don’t understand their viewpoint or actions, simply asking about it can make a world of difference. Never assume that people do what they do to annoy you. Sometimes there’s good reason why that person does what he or she does (even the things that really get on your nerves), and a potential conflict evaporates right there.


Invite the other person to talk about the situation.

A hurried conversation at your desk between emails and phone calls won’t solve anything. You need an undisturbed location and time to address the issue.



Identify what you see in neutral, objective terms. This is where you describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. What is actually happening? When and how is it happening? What is the other person doing and, not least, what are you doing?



Apologize for your part in the conflict. Usually everyone involved has done something to create and sustain the conflict. Remember: You’re not accepting the entire blame, you’re taking responsibility for your contribution to the situation.


Identify the consequences.

What has the conflict led to for you and for the company? Why is it a problem? Outlining the consequences of the conflict shows why it’s necessary to resolve it. It also helps participants to look beyond themselves and see the conflict “from the outside.


Define an objective.

What would be a good outcome? It’s essential to set a goal so both parties know the outcome they’re aiming for. That makes reaching the outcome a lot more likely.


Get mediation.

Some conflicts cannot be solved by the participants alone, and mediators can help. Mediation involves a neutral third party who has been trained in mediation principles, who is experienced in mediation, and who is trusted by the people involved in the conflict. A good mediator will help the disputants find their own solution, not provide advice or push them toward any particular solution.


In closing.

There is no guarantee that the method described here will resolve your conflict at work. It may or it may not. But even if it doesn’t work you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve tried. You have risen above the conflict for a while and tried to address it positively and constructively. No one can ask more of you.

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