Deal With Workplace Conflict?
Tips for Managing Workplace Conflict
Direct Discussion - How to Approach a
Co-worker Why We Avoid
Dealing With Conflict
Are All Conflicts the Result of Personality
Clashes or Poor Behaviour
Communicating in Conflict
Managing Anger - Yours and Others
Being Hard on the Problem - Not the Person
The Role of Assumptions, Perceptions and
Expectations in Conflict
Tips for Managing Workplace
The following section provides guidelines
for managing workplace conflict. Further information on many of the
topics touched on in this section can be found throughout the site.
What should I do if I’m concerned
about the working relationship with a co-worker?
People often respond with whatever
behaviour they have used in the past in conflict situations, such
- arguing, with loud voices and
aggressive body language,
- avoiding contact with the other
person as much as possible,
- excusing the conflict as
resulting from the other person being under stress, or as an
isolated incident that will not be repeated,
- not wanting to “make a big deal
out of it” and pretending that it never happened.
These responses can set the stage for
this colleague’s future actions to be viewed in a negative light –
e.g. “there s/he goes again”.
When the issue is important to you or
the working relationship is important to you, it is recommended that
you talk about the problem with the other person as quickly as
possible. This practice is not “making a big deal” of the issue but
effective conflict management.
Talking to the other person is
respectful, as it:
- gives the other person a chance
to explain themselves, or
- gives the other person a chance
- gives both of you an opportunity
to better understand each other’s views on the working
- allows you to negotiate ways of
working together that work for both of you.
Discussion - Tips for Approaching a Co-Worker
will be helpful in preparing to have a
face to face discussion about the working relationship.
Why We Avoid Dealing with Conflict
provides information on the barriers to direct dialogue.
assist you in identifying the response that is most appropriate in a
What if the conflict is with
When the conflict is with a
supervisor there is a power differential that may influence how a
conflict can be approached. If you are in a subordinate position
within the institutional structure you may fear retribution or
mistreatment if the discussion does not go well. If issues cannot
be resolved through direct and open discussion then it is
recommended that you request assistance from a supervisor at a
higher administrative level within your faculty, the Human Resources
Office, the Human Rights Office or your union (where applicable).
You may be able to reduce conflict by
making sure that you communicate effectively with him or her about
your work. Make sure that you keep your supervisor informed about
your work activities and any issues that may arise. In addition, you
should feel free to make sure you understand the expectations of
your supervisor. Ask if things do not seem clear, and review
expectations to make sure both you and your supervisor are in
What if I lack confidence in my
ability to approach the other person directly?
Approaching a person sincerely, with
a real willingness to hear what the problems are from their
perspective, are the key ingredients. If you can do that – you can
begin to address the situation yourself. While your first attempts
may feel awkward and difficult, with practice, like with any new
skill, you will gain confidence and expertise.
Coaching from others can also be
helpful. Coaching can be requested from a number of resources:
- a Employee and Family Assistance
- a supervisor,
- a trusted friend or colleague
who you think handles conflict well.
A proactive approach would be to
enrol in a basic conflict resolution course before the need arises
as part of your professional development plan.
When necessary, a meeting with a
co-worker and a neutral third person to assist can be requested. A
neutral, third party can assist both of you in having a productive
discussion. A supervisor, a colleague or co-worker that you both
trust, a union steward (when you are both members of the same
union), a Human Resources Assistant or a Human Rights Advisor may be
able to serve as a neutral third party to assist in the resolution
of the concern
What if the direct approach is
unsuccessful or the situation is already escalated?
As out-of-control conflict has a
negative impact on individuals and on the workplace it is important
to ask for assistance. Assistance from a supervisor may be
appropriate as well as a union steward. In very serious situations a
conflict resolution specialist external to the situation can be
brought in to assist in restoring working relationships.
What if the conflict leads to angry, threatening behaviour?
Yelling, name-calling or threatening
outbursts should not be tolerated in any workplace. If a co-worker
displays this kind of behaviour a report to a supervisor should be
made immediately so that a quick response can occur. While employees
should endeavour to address workplace conflict on their own whenever
possible, the behaviours described above are symptoms of conflict
that has become dangerously escalated and that require direct