Home How to Manage Conflict at Work

How to Manage Conflict at Work

You may think that you have the world’s most exceptional colleagues, but sooner or later, you’ll have a conflict at work. Unfortunately, conflict at work and misunderstandings happen all the time, so managing them in a proper way to minimize their effect on your productivity is critical to achieving career goals.

The effects of how to manage conflicts at work effect can be quite significant.

According to an Inc.com piece, for example, workplace conflicts have office employees and leadership dealing with them almost three hours every week and result in $359 billion in losses annually.

Managing conflicts at work can mean dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace.

The best way to deal with conflict or disagreement in the office is to merely talk about it, and find a solution together. Yes, communication is a powerful tool against conflicts and their adverse effects. Still, one has to know how to handle those difficult conversations and find a way out of a complicated situation while minimizing their impact on productivity and work environment.

Six Tips to Resolve Conflict at Work — Especially for Managers.

1. Know the Causes of Conflict/Tension and Avoid Them

There are several common causes of conflicts and disagreement, including stress, poor communication, unclear or conflicting expectations, and personal issues.

Let’s discuss each of them.

Stress: Did you know that 36% of workers in the U.S. are stressed? The loss of productivity from stress-related issues ends up costing U.S. businesses $30 billion annually in lost workdays. Stress is one of the major factors affecting people on the job, and, unfortunately, it’s also a common cause of conflict and tension.

To minimize the impact of stress on your professional life and avoid conflicts, you need to identify what’s causing you to be stressed out.

According to Statista, there are four main reasons for stress at work among employees in North America, and they include the following: workload, people issues, juggling work, and personal life, and lack of job security.

Let’s discuss a few ways you can overcome these challenges and reduce stress at work:

Workload: Long hours and tight deadlines overwhelm most of us. However, they do not make us more productive. We need to recognize that long hours sometimes do not equal success. People who put in 70 hours per week produce nothing more than those who put in 55.  So, what is the real secret to maximizing your productivity and getting things done faster?

The answer is effective time management. While we cannot control time, we can absolutely manipulate it. Today, many productivity software apps make it possible for us to get projects completed faster with less effort.

Job Insecurity: Career anxiety is a common problem among workers around the world. No one knows what the future holds; thus, uncertainty is inevitable. The first step to overcoming career anxiety is recognizing that there are many things in this life that we have zero control over. Instead of concentrating on the bad and making up possible future scenarios, we should make the most of what we have and enjoy the learning journey.

Work-Life Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is on the wish list of many workers in the U.S. and around the world. There is no doubt that happy workers are more productive and motivated. But how can one attain this balance? It all starts with setting manageable goals each day. Being able to meet priorities gives us a sense of accomplishment, which automatically boosts our motivation.

Sometimes, we get so overloaded at work that we do not even know where to begin.

Once we structure our responsibilities, it is easier to think of strategies that will help us get our tasks completed faster. Stress may not only affect your productivity, but also cause many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Identifying the source of stress will be the first step to reducing its effect on your life because then you can start working on eliminating that source.

stress and workplace conflict
Stress can cause workplace conflict.

Poor Communication: In many cases, the reason for arguing with a colleague in the first place — is the lack of communication. The persons involved in the argument may not even be the ones to blame because a company’s culture may be poorly suited to ensure sufficient communication.

Positive organizational culture plays a vital role in ensuring clear communication in the workplace, and here is why:

  • Employees feel more safe about expressing their thoughts, seeking feedback, and making mistakes.
  • Leaders are more interested in hearing their subordinates’ opinions and helping them with their problems.

Poor communication can also result in unclear or conflicting expectations. For example, your boss may assign a task for you to complete but not provide you with enough details to complete the job. In this case, you won’t be able to deliver that meets his or her expectations.

Personal Issues: They include such problems as personal crises and family problems and can also impact your relationship with colleagues at the office. If you’re having issues with something outside of the workplace, the chances are that you could be stressed out, irritated, sad, or frustrated. Clearly, you won’t be ready to perform as well as you could, and conflicts can happen.

This Forbes article recommends the following to minimize the impact of personal problems:

  • Talk with your boss and share what’s bothering you.
  • Don’t overshare.
  • Get support from family, friends, and spiritual leaders
  • Take time off to focus on other things
miscommunication workplace conflict
Miscommunication can cause work conflict.

2. Don’t Avoid the Conversation

Many people make a critical mistake by avoiding the conversation about the conflict or a problem because they think that the issue will go away. Well, time may be a great healer, but not in this case: you cannot escape the problem by simply choosing to ignore it.

You can’t sweep issues under the rug. It is best to address what may be causing conflict and come up with a plan to move past it.

3. Choose a Private Setting

Some people love to make a scene and let everybody know that their feelings were hurt. However, this is a sure-fire way to escalate the problem rather than solve it because you involve others in the office by letting them know what the conflict is all about. Letting others know about conflict is a lower emotional intelligence move. Don’t do it.

Remember: just because you’ve had a disagreement or a conflict with someone, this doesn’t give you any right to let the entire workforce know about it.

Choose a private setting even if disagreement began in a public place and try to resolve it professionally, e.g., communicatively and healthily.

conversations resolve conflict
Conversations can help resolve a work conflict.

4. Preparation is Critical

Conflict resolution is something that requires a little bit of preparation. For example, do you know everything that you’re going to say to the colleague you’ve just disagreed with? If you come unprepared, the chances are that he or she will handle the situation better than you.

However, if you prepare in advance for that awkward conversation and define the most important things that you want to say about the disagreement, you’ll have a great chance to get the desired result.

Here’s a checklist for you to prepare for that uncomfortable conversation. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What might my opponent be thinking about the whole situation?
  • What might be his or her goal?
  • How have my opponent and I contributed to the problem?
  • What counterarguments can I have right now?
  • Have your best alternative to an agreement ready. Simply explained, this alternative is the minimum that you’re willing to get out of the conversation. If your opponent doesn’t agree to your options, then feel free to walk away with it.

5. Avoid Being Accusatory

The temptation to jump to conclusions regarding who is the one to blame will be quite strong but resist it. Being accusatory would be a huge mistake because it shows that you’re motivated by bad intentions rather than a desire to find a good, or adequate solution.

Just like with a friend or spouse, you want to listen and validate the other person’s concerns to find the best resolution.

6. Be Willing to Listen and Allow Others to Vent

Hearing someone vent and complain can be the hardest because your opponent may say things that you think are unfair or wrong. However, you should be willing to listen because you need to hear their perspective. Listen carefully and you’ll find you can learn some amazing things. You’ll often find something valuable on which you and the other person can agree. If you are merely listening to create a good opening for your own reply, you’re likely not hearing what is being said.

Here’s how to go about hearing another person:

Step 1: Listen to what your opponent has to say.

Step 2: Summarize what they said to make sure that you are understanding everything correctly.

Step 3: Emphasize that you heard what was being said by being able to repeat back to them what they said to you and repeat their point of view to them. Understand some of the reasons for their point of view. By repeating their point of view, it will create a willingness for your opponent to hear your view

Step 4: Say what you have to say.

active listening
Active listening can help with workplace conflict.


Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, so you might as well learn how to deal with it properly. I hope this article answered your questions such as “How to handle a difficult conversation in the workplace?”

Remember: the best way to resolve a conflict or lack of an agreement — is to address it as soon as possible, but if you can’t do so, feel free to use the above tips.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Joe Martin
VP of Marketing

Joe Martin is currently the VP of marketing at Scorpion, a leading provider of technology and marketing to help small businesses grow. Formerly he was CloudApp’s GM and CMO and a Head of Marketing at Adobe. With over 15 years of experience in the industry and tech that makes it run, he provides strategic guidance on how to build and use the right stack and marketing for businesses to grow. Joe believes marketers need smart training and leadership to scale company growth. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @joeDmarti.

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