How to take the CON out of CONFLICT

by Mike O'Neill

It’s mid-summer. As the temperature soars … so does the potential for workplace conflict. Ignoring it can be costly. Understanding the reasons behind workplace conflict can help you “bridge the gap” between conflict and resolution.

The challenge is in figuring out which conflicts are healthy and which ones are harmful. An unhealthy conflict is when it becomes personal and emotional. By contrast, good conflict can lead to higher levels of trust.
A good place to start is by realizing that, even though people may shy away from it, conflict is actually normal and healthy. Many believe that it’s a vital ingredient to organizational success.
Experts have found that the most effective teams are those in which members feel safe enough to disagree with one another. A culture where dissent is allowed, or even encouraged, can spur innovation, diversity of thought, and better decision-making.
Difference is at the heart of conflict. so it’s important to explore areas where people often don’t align.
Some fights are over resources such as budget; others erupt from incompatible goals or reactions to structural change in the company. The key is creating the perception of abundance – so solutions are possible even when acquiring more resources in not an option.
In an increasing global & diverse workplace, sometimes the heart of the problem is that people differ from each other in age, gender, ethnicity or personality type.
One of the biggest drivers of conflict is when people misinterpret others’ intentions. The introvert who stays quiet during an entire meeting and brings up a problem at the end is not trying to sabotage a co-worker, that behavior simply aligns with his/her personality type.
Employees have differing levels of comfort with addressing conflict. Too often, discomfort causes conflicts to be avoided entirely. And that’s not good. Conflict avoidance can lead to real blowups when one person can’t hold it in any longer. Studies show that increased productivity & engagement are correlated with the shortness of time between identifying a problem and discussing it.
  1. Schedule a meeting to address the problem, preferable at a neutral place.
  2. Set ground rules. Ask all parties to treat each other with respect and strive to listen & understand other’s views.
  3. Ask each participant to describe the conflict, including desired changes focusing on specific behaviors rather than people.
  4. Ask participants to restate what others have said.
  5. Summarize the conflict based on what you have heard and obtain agreement from participants.
  6. Brainstorm solutions discussing options in a positive manner ruling out options that participants agree are unworkable.
  7. Summarize all possible options for a solution.
  8. Assign further analysis of each option to individual participants.
  9. Make sure all parties agree on the next steps.
  10. Close the meeting by asking participants to shake hands and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.


Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.

Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill


When conflict becomes a win-lose contest in our minds, we immediately try to win. 

Thomas Crum


In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Albert Einstein

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