How do I deal with conflict in the work place?


The first thing we must accept is that conflict occurs everywhere, all the time. The important thing to realise is that conflict is not the problem; it is the way we react to or deal with the conflict that may cause the problem. We shouldn’t let it ‘freak us out’, because in our everyday life it usually  doesn’t, so why should it in the workplace? 

The most appropriate definition of conflict, as contained in The Oxford Senior Dictionary is: “To be in opposition or disagreement.” It does not mean that there has to be some sort of battle. The key is the resolution of the “opposition or disagreement”.

Imagine a movie date with a friend.  She wants to watch a horror; I want to watch a romantic comedy. Conflict!

There are many different forms of conflict, the most common forms which we deal with on a daily basis are:

  1. Intrapersonal conflict: This is conflict that we experience internally when we debate with our own conscience. For example I’m on a diet, but I want that piece of chocolate cake. Do I eat the cake, don’t I; this is a chance to have a delicious piece of cake; I’ll run later on and so on.
  2. Interpersonal conflict: This is the conflict that we experience when we are at odds with someone else. For example, I want a Hawaiian theme party for the end of year function, while my co-worker wants a paintball teambuilding.
  3. The interpersonal conflict can then be extended to conflict within a group, known as intra-group conflict, and
  4. Intergroup conflict, where one group is in conflict with another group.

The first step in dealing with conflict is to identify the cause of the conflict, this is also known as the ‘root’ or the ‘root cause’ of the conflict. Here it is important for you to separate your emotions from the situation and investigate the conflict situation to establish the root cause. The root cause could be anything from personal differences, including different needs or understanding of the situation to limited resources, to lack of or breakdown in communication, to some form of breakdown in the organisational structure.

Once you have identified the root cause - and this may not be an easy thing to do, but the more you practice identifying it, the easier it will become – the second step is to establish the importance of that root cause to you.

The third step is then to decide on your appropriate conduct based on the root cause and its importance to you.

 In an interpersonal conflict example:

  1. What is the cause of the conflict? Different wants for the end of year function.
  2. How important is the cause to you? Here it is either spending out of work time with your work colleagues or a specific event.
  3. Decide on the appropriate action: If the specific event is more important than spending time with your colleagues, then you can organize that event in your own time with your own friends, if it is more important for you to spend time with your colleagues, then the function doesn’t really matter!

However simple this sounds, it is important not to let little issues accumulate until one little issue causes an excessive reaction which may not be appropriate to the issue. For example the situation where your colleague wants a different theme and you get so frustrated that you ‘blow up’: “Bill is such a bully, he always get his own way at work, this time I’m not going to let him, I going to push for the Hawaiian party no matter what!” If you had identified the root cause of the conflict when you initially noticed it you could have easily dealt with it in a rational and practical way and avoided this inappropriate reaction.