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The Do's and Dont's of Conflict at Work

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Hundreds of people ask Google every month, “How do I avoid conflict at work?” The answer to this is simple - you can’t, but many professionals will try. Our assessment of conflict management styles uncovered that 4.6% of respondents said their go-to conflict style is avoidance. However, conflict in the workplace is inevitable, natural, and, when handled correctly, has the potential to deepen relationships and spur meaningful change.

So, how do you get to that point? How do you handle the discomfort associated with conflict at work, engage in difficult conversations, and ultimately resolve the conflict? While your conflict management style will affect this, several universal do’s, and don’ts should be followed when you encounter a conflict at work. Let’s review what those are.


What's your conflict management style? Take this quiz to find out!


✅ Get Your Priorities Straight

Before engaging in any conflict, you need to take the time to understand your priorities by asking yourself questions like, what are my intentions? Is this conflict worth it/important to me? If so, why? What am I willing to do to resolve it? If you don’t do this, you run the risk of arguing over the wrong things, losing sight of the end goal, and ending up with a resolution that does not meet your needs.


❌ Don’t Avoid Conflict

Avoiding conflict altogether is not only nearly impossible in the workplace; it can also stagnate your personal growth, derail your career advancement, and harm your working relationships. However, this does not deter employees from trying, especially those whose dominant conflict style is avoiding. In fact, one study found that:

  • 67% of employees took extra measures to avoid a colleague with whom they had disagreed with
  • 29% took several days to resolve the conflict
  • 24% avoided social events or situations
  • 10% avoided going to meetings


✅ Practice Reflective Listening

American clinical psychologist, Neil Clark Warran, once said, “In the midst of conflict, there is absolutely nothing that produces gains as dramatically as listening.” While it’s natural to focus on preparing what you’re going to say next while another person is speaking, challenge yourself to simply listen to what is (and isn’t!) being said. Even try practicing reflective listening, which is when you say what the other person just said back to them, using phrases like, “If I hear you correctly…” and “It sounds like…” When you do this, you not only make them feel heard and understood, you also immediately clear up any misunderstandings that may escalate or further complicate the conflict.


❌ Don’t Make Blanket Statements

In any conflict, you want to avoid sweeping generalizations such as sentences that begin with, "You always…" or "You never…" You also want to be mindful not to make statements that appear to speak for someone else. When you do so, you run the risk of provoking defensiveness and hostility, which can undermine your ability to honestly and productively discuss the conflict. Instead, use “I” statements such as, “I would prefer that…,” “My concern is that…” or “From my perspective…”


✅ Pay Attention to Your Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

In a conflict at work, it’s not just about what you say, but about how you say it. Communication cues like a raised voice, an ill-timed laugh, a sarcastic tone, or a bad choice of words may be enough to escalate a conflict or impede its resolution. To help you identify your strengths and weaknesses when communicating with others at work, we recommend reading this guide next.


❌ Don’t Get Defensive

Former judge and TED talk speaker, Jim Tamm, once warned that “[When we get defensive] we put way more into self-preservation than we do into problem-solving. We try to prove that we’re right rather than search for creative solutions.” This is an especially dangerous pitfall if you are trying to adopt the collaborating conflict style. Fortunately, researchers have found that you can reduce defensiveness by “emphasizing our respect and value for the person, even if you disagree with their views or actions.”


NeXt Step

Now that you have a list of do’s and don’ts for conflict at work that are universally applicable, we recommend finding out what your dominant conflict management style is and learning what its strengths and weaknesses are. With this information, you will be better prepared to approach conflict and have difficult conversations that come to a meaningful resolution.

What Is Your Conflict Management Style? Take the Quiz to Find Out