How to manage conflict at work

How to manage conflict at work

We’d like our workplace relationships to always look and feel like everybody’s happy, but as I’m sure you know and have experienced, this is often not the case.

85% of workers experience conflict at work on some level and research shows that people spend an average of 2.8 hours at work each week dealing with conflict. The avoidance of conflict resulted in sickness or absence from work in 25% of those studied.

Think about this for yourself. In recent times, where has there been significant conflict to the point that you’ve been sick or taken days off work, because you didn’t want to deal with that conflict?


 The primary causes of workplace conflict include:

  • Personality clashes
  • Miscommunication
  • Difference of opinion
  • Different values
  • Competing goals
  • Stress and heavy workloads
  • Limited resources
  • Workplace and interpersonal culture
  • Lack of leadership
  • Conscious and unconscious bias

If we can’t avoid conflict at work, how do we make the most of these inevitable situations? It comes down to understanding others and understanding yourself.

Research from The University of California looked at 550 different studies and found that the basic criteria for greater understanding between groups is contact, regardless of the quality. The reason contact works, this analysis finds, is not cognitive, but emotional. In essence, the more you like someone, the less conflict you perceive. You don’t have to agree with someone to like them. Just get to know them.

Understand others

Actively listen and seek to understand others. Having empathy is the starting place of understanding why conflict exists.

Understand yourself

Understand your conflict handling style, and know when it works for you (and when it doesn’t).


When it comes to resolving workplace conflicts, there are five key styles that people use. The next time you find yourself in a conflict at work, take a moment to determine both your go-to-style, and the style that you may need to shift to, to get a better outcome. We go through each of these styles in Module 5 of the Women Rising Program, which 98% of our graduates say they would highly recommend.

Style #1 – Avoiding

Avoiding is when people just ignore or withdraw from the conflict. They choose this method when the discomfort of confrontation exceeds the potential reward of resolution of the conflict. When conflict is avoided, nothing is resolved.

Style #2 - Competing

Competing is used by people who go into a conflict planning to win. They’re assertive and not cooperative. This method is characterised by the assumption that one side wins and everyone else loses. It doesn’t allow room for diverse perspectives into a well informed total picture.

Style #3 - Accommodating

Accommodating is where one party gives in to the wishes or demands of another, being cooperative but not assertive. When one party accommodates another merely to preserve harmony or to avoid disruption, it can result in unresolved issues. Too much accommodation can result in groups where the most assertive parties commandeer the process and take control of most conversations.

Style #4 - Collaborating

Collaborating is the method used when people are both assertive and cooperative. A group may learn to allow each participant to make a contribution with the possibility of co-creating a shared solution that everyone can support. A great way to collaborate and overcome conflict is to connect.

Style #5 - Compromising

Another strategy is compromising, where participants are partially assertive and cooperative. The concept is that everyone gives up a little bit of what they want, and no one gets everything they want. The perception of the best outcome when working by compromise is that which “splits the difference.” Compromise is perceived as being fair, even if no one is particularly happy with the final outcome.

Reflection questions:

  1. How much conflict have you experienced in your role over the past 24 months?
  2. How do you typically feel about conflict at work? Does it bother you, make you feel anxious, lead to sick days, or not phase you at all?
  3. Which of the 5 styles above is your main conflict resolution style?
  4. How can you improve your conflict resolution style? What could be improved from the way you communicate to the way you manage your relationships?

By Megan Dalla-Camina, Women Rising Founder & CEO

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