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Conflict in the workplace

By Elaine Seale-Mckend

Conflict at work? It’s healthy and can often spark different views, perspectives and opinions, reassuringly its normal! It's also one of the most difficult challenges leaders in all organisations face particularly with increasing diversity of employees.

HBR ‘Managing a polarised workforce’ (Mar-April 2022) states that 89 percent of 486 US respondents reported experiencing conflict at work to some degree and spend 3.5 hours a week dealing with it. Yet, with such a big problem surprisingly few are trained or coached in handling workplace conflict more effectively.

In our experience of supporting teams to step into challenging situations we have learnt a few lessons. What does help is to have a better understanding of what you and the other members of the team are trying to achieve. Seek points of agreement, busting the myth that ‘disagreement is bad’, psychological safety is about encouraging people to speak up in places and spaces where they feel able to take emotion out of the situation by focusing on the TASK not the PERSON.

So many of us believe conflict is negative and often go to great lengths to avoid it. However. our experience shows that disagreement when managed well can produce greater benefits than avoidance does. We have some well researched techniques we use such as getting teams to propose arguments from the opposing perspective from the one they support in order to open up minds and consider different points of view. Listening receptively by restating what others have said in their own words to build and ensure understanding.

There are a few well know tools such as the Thomas Kilman Conflict model still widely used but perhaps with the richness of team diversity, changes in attitudes and more collaborative and innovative focused workspaces it’s time for something more sophisticated.

It’s worth keeping in mind that sometimes people don’t share our goals and that’s OK. Realising we cannot control other people but we can control our own emotions is exceptionally powerful. Take some quiet breaths, stay out of the story and stay present in the conversation.

If you want to know more about coaching teams to manage and thrive in our fast changing and diverse world of work reach out to us at

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