C-Suite Agenda

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace Before It Gets Out of Control

Workplace conflict isn’t a new issue in the world of business, but it has become more pressing in the past couple of years.  According to one survey, 55% of respondents said conflict at work is more common now than it was before the pandemic due in part to increasing workloads and personal demands. Knowing how to handle conflict resolution in the workplace should be a top priority for all.

Workplace conflict isn’t a new issue in the world of business, but it has become more pressing in the past couple of years. In one recent survey, 55% of respondents said conflict at work is more common now than it was before the pandemic due in part to increasing workloads and personal demands. The report also suggests that returning to the office and integrating new workloads and changing protocols will further increase conflict and stress.

Considering that working with others is part of nearly every job, from high-powered CEOs to warehouse night-shift workers, everyone is likely to face less-than-ideal interactions at one point or another. Knowing how to handle conflict resolution in the workplace should be a top priority for all.

3 Strategies to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Dealing with difficult people at work doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge. It is possible to resolve conflicts amicably and strengthen your professional relationships in the process. You just need to know how to do it.

  1. Question your first instinct.
    When dealing with conflict, the fight-or-flight response can sometimes feel overpowering, but it’s important to remember in tense moments that succumbing to either of these impulses will usually just make things worse. Fighting will likely add fuel to the fire, but running away from the problem won’t solve anything, either.

    Instead, try to find the middle ground between these two extremes. If the situation is very tense, give the other party space to calm down, but remember that you will need to come back eventually to hash things out. When you do, approach the situation as objectively as possible and begin by asking open-ended questions rather than making demands or accusations. This type of approach is active but not confrontational and can help you truly solve a conflict — instead of turning it into a winner-loser situation.I understand how hard taking this advice can be in practice. I have more than once let my “fight” instinct get the better of me during disagreements, especially in cases when I was passionate about the subject. While standing firm no matter the cost might have helped me win some arguments, it also damaged some of my professional relationships. These aren’t the times I look back on with fondness. Instead, it’s the times when I’ve managed to strike a balance between sticking to my principles and maintaining a healthy relationship with my colleagues that I cherish.

  2. Remember that distance doesn’t mitigate conflict.
    Workplace conflict isn’t confined to just the physical office. As more and more people work remotely, conflict in virtual teams will happen more often. Because remote interactions often feel more impersonal, it can be tempting to sweep these types of conflict under the rug, dismissing them as minor incidents. However, this is exactly the type of environment where misunderstandings are common and minor disagreements can escalate quickly.

    The less personal nature of a virtual interaction might make it seem like the conflict will just go away when you hit the X button, but, in truth, the weak nature of the relational connection actually increases the intensity of the conflict. When dealing with others in a remote environment, it’s crucial to actively consider the humanity of the other person on screen. Make the effort to create a meaningful relationship with your remote colleagues and talk through issues before they escalate into full conflict.

    On the flip side, it’s also necessary to let the little things go. For instance, you might see someone roll their eyes while you’re in the middle of talking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re itching for a fight. Consider for a moment that the gesture might not have had anything to do with you. Maybe that person’s dog just committed a household crime for the fourth time that morning or their son just wandered by missing his pants. Certainly, if the eye-rolling continues, it’s important to talk it out, but in the moment, be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and not take things so personally. Because it may turn out not to be personal at all.

  3. Remember that you’ve probably been someone else’s difficult person.
    Giving the benefit of the doubt and being empathetic can get you a long way in resolving conflict. To start adopting a more understanding mindset, remind yourself that workplace conflict runs both ways.In other words, you’ve probably been the difficult one at some point. Maybe it was due to a difference of opinion, or maybe you were having a bad day, but what’s certain is that being the cause of conflict didn’t make you a bad person. Remember this when you find yourself getting frustrated with someone at work.

    Everyone messes up, and everyone has hurt and been hurt — that doesn’t mean you have to forgive and forget, but remembering this fact might help you extend a little grace and empathy. There’s no excuse for bad behavior, but recognizing that someone’s bad behavior isn’t the entirety of who they are is an important step in resolving conflicts amicably.

When it comes to conflict resolution in the workplace, the primary thing to remember is that every circumstance involves (at least) two sides, and agreement can happen only if each side seeks to understand the other’s perspectives. If you can do that, you’ll be able to create objectivity in your conversations and reduce negative emotions even in the most heated of disagreements. Workplace conflict might be inevitable, but you do have control over how you resolve it.


Written by Shawn Miller.

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Shawn Miller
Shawn Miller leads the People Solutions Services practice area at Morrison, serving clients nationally in industries such as agribusiness, manufacturing and processing, distribution, healthcare, and nonprofit.


Shawn Miller is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.