Conflict Management

Week 2

Surely, we’ve all experienced conflict in the professional setting throughout our careers. Handling team incongruities with grace and poise can be a difficult skill to learn. It is, nevertheless, important to remember conflict management is indeed just that: a skill that is learned, practiced, refined, and continually evolving. While asking your coworker to sit down and solve a difficult problem together can be quite anxiety-inducing; the more you practice thoughtful confrontation (by the way confrontation is not a bad word!) the smoother each subsequent disagreement will seem. Additionally, you will come to realize most workplace discrepancies are born from miscommunication and the majority of people involved are also longing for resolution. In this post we will address the most common causes of workplace conflict, specific strategies for handling difficult conversations to achieve conflict resolution, and end with a list of conflict resolution resources for readers to explore on their own.

This is meant to be an introductory discussion of commonplace professional disagreements; we will not be delving into toxic workplace environments or severe breaches of safety/ethics in this piece. However, it must be stated that such serious incursions should be addressed and escalated as soon as possible to prevent harm to patients, coworkers, etc.

Conflict can be broken down in several ways, the following is a combination of conflict categorization taken from multiple scholarly sources. In general, most workplace conflict can be sorted into two categories:
– Personality disputes: emotion-based, stress-induced
– Substantive disputes: related to work processes, specific tasks, or team direction

While the most common causes of conflict (in either category) can be further associated with:
– Poor Communication: unclear expectations, unclear roles
– Time Management Issues
– Incompatible interests/goals

Conflict can exist between individuals or groups and be as simple as a difference in personal standards of office cleanliness or as expansive as a fundamental disagreement in delivery of patient care. Whatever the issue, the basic steps for clearing the air remain the same. Here are some commonly cited strategies for resolving workplace disputes:
– Prepare yourself: Be honest with yourself about your role in the conflict. Try to remove your emotions from the issue and stay curious about why you may be reacting the way you are. Plan a safe location and uninterrupted time to meet.
– Address Problems Early: dealing with matters as they arise will foster your willingness for conflict resolution and decrease the buildup of resentment that may come with avoidance tactics.
– Clearly State the Issue: This is where things like “I” statements become useful. Clearly define the problem you want to solve and why it is important to you. Remember to stick to the facts and keep an open demeanor. It may be important to state that you are focused on “X” behavior or “X” outcome so the other party doesn’t feel personally attacked.
– Practice Active Listening: Let the other party tell their side of the story without judgement and refrain from interrupting. Instead of preparing a rebuttal as they are speaking, really try to see their perspective and respond with empathy.
– Respond to Criticism: absorb any criticism directed at you and try your best to respond thoughtfully and with an inquisitive spirit as opposed to a defensive one.
– Identify a Solution: Often solutions involve compromise, be willing to work together to solve the problem. Having a plan for holding one another accountable is valuable to avoid slipping back into the same bad behaviors that contributed to the disagreement.

*If the resolution session becomes overly emotional, disrespectful, or unsafe, end the session and plan a time to pick back up later. It is more beneficial to communicate effectively over multiple meetings than to remain in an unproductive space.

Reading about conflict resolution in the workplace is most certainly easier than engaging in it. If you’ve been avoiding something (or someone) at work because of your fear of confrontation, take some time to reflect on how you’d like to move forward resolving the issue. In addition to the basic review above, there are some resources at the end of this article to get you started. May we be brave enough to confront the conflicts we face and optimistic enough to accept the possibility of a positive outcome.

Resources for conflict management in the professional setting:

How to Resolve Workplace Conflicts (
Browse Courses | Team and Corporate Training | Crucial Learning (from the authors of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations)
Conflict in the Workplace and How to Prevent and Resolve It (
How to Manage Workplace Conflict –
Emotional Intelligence | Psychology Today