Written by Jordan Meehan, LCSW

While conflict in the workplace may be unavoidable, managing — and ultimately resolving — conflict is possible. Workplace conflict can add an extra layer of stress to an already long list of responsibilities and stressors for the typical worker. Conflict with coworkers can be draining! Learning how to manage conflict at work is an import skill to help you develop and maintain positive relationships with your coworkers, while also being an effective way to manage and reduce stress.

Sometimes you may find yourself dealing with clashing personalities. Perhaps a manager is causing you distress by micromanaging your work. Maybe you are trying to navigate a coworker’s differing opinions on a topic. Regardless of who you have a conflict with, working to resolve the conflict will ultimately make everyone’s work experience better. While conflict can be an uncomfortable reality, there are constructive ways to deal with issues when they arise.

A good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind is that many workplace conflicts stem from miscommunications.

Often, the way out of a conflict is through effective communication. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your coworker, collective goals and compromises can be made when constructive communication is used to address conflicts. In fact, in a study conducted by the Niagara Institute of 700 individuals in 36 different countries, 70.7% of workers are willing to find a compromise to resolve conflict quickly.* Thus, most workers want to work on resolving conflict when given the opportunity.

Managing conflict takes more than just talking to your coworker. Every conflict is unique and will require multiple steps to solve the issue. However, there are several basic steps that everyone can take to deal with conflict.


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Steps to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

1. Self-reflect

Start with yourself. Spend some time reflecting on the issue to best identify and understand the source of the conflict. What do you believe to be the actual issue? As much as you can, try to separate yourself from the feelings caused by the conflict to better understand if the true issue is surface-level only or more about how you are being treated as a person and colleague.

2. Develop a plan

First ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve from addressing the conflict with my coworker?” Identify your goals to give you a starting point for the conversation. Next, try writing down a few bullet points about what you want to discuss. By understanding what you want to get out of a conversation and what you want to talk about, it will be easier to stay focused throughout the discussion.

3. Determine if talking to your coworker is “safe”

In some instances, you may feel intimidated or nervous about addressing conflict with a coworker, especially if the coworker is your manager. This is okay! Reflect on past experiences and what you know about the coworker to determine if you can safely approach them about the issue. If you fear retaliation or a hostile response, you may need to involve your manager or Human Resources. In instances of harassment, contact Human Resources immediately.

4. Address the conflict privately

When managing conflict, it is best to avoid public conversations about the issue. Choose a place and a time to communicate your concerns when other coworkers are not around. Additionally, when in a public setting, be mindful not to make passive aggressive choices. Maintain a respectful demeanor towards your coworker and never gossip with others about the issue. Once you and your coworker are in a private setting, keep the following in mind:

  1. Find common ground: Clearly state what you perceive as the issue and ask your coworker for their perceptions about the conflict. Validate their point-of-view by saying things like, “I understand better now where you are coming from,” or “Thank you for helping me see things from your perspective.” Then, discuss potential solutions together to see if a collective goal can be established.
  2. Be direct, but not defensive: In instances where the conflict involves how a coworker has treated you, calmly and clearly state what behavior is not okay and what replacement behavior is expected. Initially, you may receive pushback and a defensive response from your coworker but remain focused on your goal for the conversation to avoid becoming defensive, yourself.
  3. Commit to making your own improvements: Rarely is conflict one-sided. When discussing solutions for the conflict, communicate what you plan to change and what you are willing to work on to minimize ongoing conflict. By showing that you are willing to make changes, your coworker will be more likely to do so as well.

5. If all else fails, contact Human Resources

Unfortunately, attempts to resolve workplace conflict do not always go well. In cases where the conflict escalates despite your efforts to manage it, you have tried involving a manager, you experience retaliation, or if the conflict results in your coworker acting hostile towards you, contact your company’s Human Resources department. They will do an assessment of the situation and take steps to resolve the issue. If you are still uncomfortable in your work environment even after Human Resources becomes involved, you may need to consider if the conflict is worth remaining at your company.

Generally, people are avoidant of conflict and don’t want to become involved in a dispute at work. You can’t always control when you find yourself in a conflict with a coworker. With a mindful approach and the right skills, you can make choices to manage the conflict effectively.

The Team at Restorative Counseling Can Help Empower You to Manage Conflict at Work

We understand how conflict with coworkers can be stressful. You may have felt at a loss in the past on what to do or how to resolve conflict. Our clinicians are here to help you develop strategies for managing work conflict so that you can get back to focusing on the important aspects of your job. Schedule an appointment today!

Workplace conflict statistics: How we approach conflict at work. (2022, August 11). Retrieved from http://www.niagarainstitute.com/blog/workplace-conflict-statistics

Hi, I’m Jordan!

I partner with teens and adults to treat concerns related to trauma, anxiety, and relationships utilizing CBT, ACT, and EMDR approaches. Read more about me.

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