When Workplace Conflict Gets Ugly


It doesn’t take much for conflict to get ugly and turn personal.

Conflict in the workplace happens. Resolving conflict at work can be tough at the best of times but there are some things that help, and some actions to avoid.

Bringing up the past, unresolved issues, blame, accusations, sarcasm, and “verbal jabs” are all examples of the behaviours that can turn a conversation into a confrontation. It is in this moment when it doesn’t feel like you have a choice, that you must actually exercise careful choice around how you respond which includes your verbal, emotional and nonverbal response. These really are those “moment of truth” times. A subtle sigh or eyeball can increase the intensity of the conflict in seconds.

Conflict resolution requires that we be:
– Present,
– Focused,
– Willing to hear a perspective that different from our own, and,
– Interested in resolving the issue

While we cannot control how other people respond or react in stressful times, what we can control is how we respond or react to the behavior or what is being said. After having facilitated the resolution of hundreds of highly charged and complex conflicts, when I was a mediator, I found that one of the most difficult choices is to resist the urge to “push back” and to being drawn into the other person’s reaction or drama.

The next time you are in a disagreement, difficult conversation or resolving a conflict, practice what I call the three second rule. Simply count to three in your head before verbally or non-verbally reacting. This simple process could be the most powerful tool in maintaining your dignity, presence and reputation.Maya Angelou said something to the effect of “people will remember not what you said, but how you made them feel.” Words may fade as time goes on, however, the impact of a conversation can stay with someone (and you) for a long time.

Make sure the impact is the type of impact you want to leave.