Choosing your Battles: Tips to Survive Workplace Conflict  


Conflict is uncomfortable, sometimes unavoidable.  Different personalities could make for a dynamic work environment.  Tension is bound to occur when you spend 40-plus hours a week in the same place.

You should self-evaluate before you start a verbal firestorm. Ask yourself how you contributed to the problem and what will you do differently to prevent a repeat occurrence.

There are ways to get through difficult situations without battle scars. Disrupting the office is not a part of your job description. In most cases, it’s counterproductive. Everyone has the right to work in peace.

Keep in mind, no one is perfect.  We should not set standards that we can’t meet ourselves.  However, we should hold one another accountable.

If you are offended:  Take deep breaths (It sounds so simple, but it’s helpful).  Step outside for a moment to calm down. Keep the incident discussion to a minimum when talking to others, especially before you address the person involved.

You don’t want the coworker you planned to confront hear about the matter from someone else. This passive-aggressive maneuver fractures professional rapport.

If you do not want to speak about the issue – let it go. It’s unfair to hold a grudge against someone who did not have the opportunity to make amends.

If you decide to address a coworker avoid certain extremes, like ‘always’ and ‘never’. Those trigger words could indicate your issue has been ongoing. Speak to the situation.  Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements.  Some offenses happen unintentionally.  Do not take it personally.

For the sake of diplomacy, talk to person calmly, discreetly and directly. Meet on neutral territory when possible.

If you are the offender: We instinctively know right from wrong, but we may not choose to follow it. If you know you made a mistake, proactively address it. Owning up to your actions shows humility.

Ask the person you might have offended. Check in with them to make you are on good terms. If they say they don’t have an issue, take them at their word. You opened the door of communication. Reassure them that you value your work relationship. People want to be respected.

The offended may approach you. You may have to flex those diplomatic muscles to not get defensive. Let them speak first. Allow for pauses so they can complete their thoughts. Interrupting them adds to their frustration.

Apologize for the offense. You may  not agree with your peer’s point of view, but you can acknowledge their feelings.

Do not point fingers and retaliate. Airing out undiscussed grievances gives the impression you’re deflecting the issue.

You may not be able to control what comes your way but can control your actions.

If the conflict involves others:

Getting involved in someone else’s conflict turn a snowball into an avalanche of problems.  Other colleagues bring their own biases and judgements, which makes the conflict more complex.

Office drama drains valuable work time and destroys morale.  Guard the words you hear, and more importantly the ones you speak.  You do not want to get tangled in someone else’s discord.

Do not take sides. You may not be fully aware of the events leading to the disagreement.  Everyone is a potential resource. Do not let others opinions of others deter you from forming relationships.   The colleague labeled as “difficult to work with” could be a wealth of knowledge – and even respond favorably to you.

Camille Doty is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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This is something I currently dealing with and I am completely lost on what to do. Even though I was doing nothing wrong, I have tried to make changes to how I work to accommodate her but the problem only seems to be getting worse. I almost feel like giving in to her demands has made her find even more things to dislike about me and has proven to her that I am wrong and so she questions everything I do.

I am guilty of discussing the issue with another co-worker and actually made a decision to stop doing so before I read this as it is not fair to the co-worker I am talking to. Apparently the person who has issues with me has been talking to her too and it really isn’t fair to put her in the middle of something she has nothing to do with.

I am really struggling to find a solution since I do have to work with her but talking to her in the past has not worked. I hate confrontation and just want to work in a happy environment without having someone constantly put me down and tell me I am wrong,

Ernie Butler

Dena, It should be beneficial to seek a mentor who may be able to provide a different perspective on why your co-worker has issues with you. (That mentor could be within or outside your organization but they must be someone you feel can keep your issue to themselves.)

Brenda Dennis

Usually everybody is trying to do their best but is heavily invested in HOW that is done. Unfortunately, it can feel totally personal when somebody questions the process. Since we all work in a constantly changing environment it does make sense that processes need to be adjusted over time. If you can approach conflict in the spirit of continuous improvement it can help. In a case like Dena’s, I would suggest meeting with the person with an open mind to ensure their concerns are heard, and work together to improve processes. Bringing in a neutral third party or other subject matter experts to help map out the process and where you are trying to get to can help a lot. If you focus on the work process instead of emotions and personalities it can lead to an opportunity instead of ongoing conflict.

Camille Doty

Dena, I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. I understand how you feel. You should talk to the other person sooner than later. Know your end-game before you address your coworker. It sounds like the problem has been brewing for a while, prepare some bullet points. I admire you for wanting to change. Giving into demands will not solve the issue. You could begin to resent your colleague and more importantly yourself. If you involve a mediator, ask someone who doesn’t have previous knowledge about the confrontation. I wish you the best.