Conflict Resolution at Work: The Essential First Step

If you Google the phrase Conflict Resolution, you will come up with 7,630,000 entries. That’s a lot of people talking about a subject that people want help with. Why?

When we think about the word conflict, we usually see it as an adversarial position. In other words, me against you or you against me and is often attached to a slew of             uncomfortable feelings like fear, loss, humiliation, hurt, anger, and pain. When we’re at work and think about having a conflict-laden conversation it can feel exhausting and sometimes we become more focused on the conflict than our work, wasting precious time and energy. We perseverate about the situation in our minds and often talk about the issue to everyone except the person we’re having the issue with. We’re up at two in the morning and get headaches and stomachaches just thinking about it.  And for many people, the word conflict is just downright scary.

But what if we didn’t see it as scary?

What if we experienced it as just another conversation and one that had the potential to lead to more understanding and a more productive work environment? The idea would be that you could have a disagreement and talk about your position without feeling fear or pain. If that were the case, you would probably go to work and feel more apt to speak, say what you really think, get more of what you want, and create more collaboration and innovation rather than an argument. How does one do that?

The Essential First Step

The first step towards resolving any type of conflict begins with us. Here, I am defining the word conflict as more than just two or more people having opposing views. Actually, having opposing views in the workplace can be a great source of innovation and creativity. You wouldn’t want to squelch that. If you saw your differences from this perspective, you would very likely not feel upset or challenged but rather see the situation as more of an opportunity.

The question then is, if conflict is more than just two people disagreeing…what is it?   I’ll define it in the following way:

  • It includes getting angry, frustrated, sad, scared, or resentful towards the other person/people you are disagreeing with.
  • In addition, it’s the unfavorable judgment you may hold about this person, such as they’re stupid, lazy, or inept or the judgments you may have about yourself that leads to feeling adversarial.


Barb, the company treasurer, disagreed with the senior management’s decision to expand to a second location and saw the expansion as a poor financial decision.  At this point, all they had was a disagreement. Had she stayed calm and open about management’s ideas, together they all could have come up with the best solution. But instead of staying calm, she got angry believing the people on the management team were incapable of running the business competently.  The disagreement then turned into a conflict with two opposing sides and a fair share of blame and anger.

Three Choices for Change

Disengage from your distress

  • Check in with yourself and ask yourself why you’re feeling angry, frustrated, etc. Can you let it go and know that you’re okay and they’re okay and that you just have different views? This alone can help change the entire situation.

Drop the blame

  • If you’re still feeling distressed, try adopting the perspective that everyone in this situation is doing the best they know to do based on their current beliefs and perspectives. They have different views from you but it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or at fault. This may feel difficult to do at first, but if you can see the other person from this light, you will feel so much more open to working things out.

Deal with the situation directly

  • Take at least one positive step towards working out this situation. This may be as simple as having an informal talk over coffee or maybe it’s letting the other person know that you want to create mutual understanding. As long as your first intention is to create a more favorable relationship, your action will reap results. Remember to keep it simple but concrete.

This first step towards conflict resolution is based on owning our part and creating a more positive way to approach the situation. It is this self-directed initiative that is so very powerful and one which will help you achieve more of what you want.

There are so many tools available for conflict resolution which will lead towards your desired outcome. Stay tuned for more!

To find out how to apply these tools in your work environment click here.








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