How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

workplace conflict

As much as it would be nice to live in a utopian world where everyone gets along perfectly and choirs of chirping birds ring harmoniously through the air every day, unfortunately, this is not the case. Human conflict can erupt from almost nothing, anytime, anywhere, but when it happens at work, it can be particularly awkward and much like a parcel full of porcelain, it must be handled with care.

The workplace brings a whole host of different personalities together which does make for an interesting environment, but obviously, sometimes they clash.

So what do you do when a ‘situation’ flares up at work?

The first thing to remember is, unless, it’s an incredibly extreme situation, not to completely shy away from conflict because, if handled the right way, the resolution can actually result in a positive change. What you ideally want to achieve is an adult conclusion to the conflict in which both parties are appeased and any harboured resentments are dissolved and cast away…although this is sometimes easier said than done; it is possible (without people getting too personal or starting a punch up!). So, without further ado, here are the key elements to consider when handling conflict in the workplace:


Whether you’re a senior member of staff or not, it is always worth carving out a clear and definitive structure as a team so when an issue does flair up, people know who to deal with to get it sorted.

By having clearly defined job descriptions, everyone knows what is expected of them. This prevents people stepping on each other’s toes and in the event of an emergency, the two conflicting parties can go to a delegated superior to work through the situation and come to a clear conclusion. This is an important step to avoiding complete anarchy in the workplace.

Keeping Your Cool

People say boxing is a brutal and barbaric sport, but it is a crafty game of tactics and more often than not, the one who keeps his or her composure is the one who wins the match.

Especially in the workplace, it is important to remain professional and if you need to diffuse the situation, it is imperative to remain assertive, yet calm and impartial in order to be able to work through the issue methodically.

Listening to Both Sides

If a conflict does arise, before weighing in it is always beneficial to understand the motives and grievances of both sides. By calmly intervening and asking each party to explain their side of the argument separately (perhaps in an office to avoid interjections or heckling), you are allowing the opportunity to vent while avoiding blame shifting and further argument.

Usually, once everybody has been heard and presented their argument, they calm down, therefore, ensuring a suitable resolution can be made.

Handling it Head On

When a problem does flare up, the best way to diffuse it is by solving it quickly before the problem erupts even more. Interject impartially and get to the root of the problem with haste - not only will this avoid any further conflict, it will make you better equipped for the next time you need to resolve similar issues.

Learning From Conflict

Life is one big learning process. Every workplace conflict offers the opportunity to make improvements to the way things are approached in the future and, therefore, in a strange way, can be a positive experience (unless someone gets their ear stapled to a desk or something!).

For example, if two people from separate departments are fighting over an admin process, after the conflict is dealt with, measures can be taken to improve interdepartmental communication, which in theory, should lead to a better, smoother working environment.

Regrettably, conflicts simply can’t be avoided in the workplace - we are all human after all. But by taking swift, diplomatic and professional measures to solve problems, these issues can be nipped in the bud without too much hassle.

And you know what they say - ‘better out than in!’