If you're in a conflict

It is easier to deal with a conflict before it develops. It is therefore important to detect it as early as possible. Conflicts are about communication, and you need to talk to your colleague about your experiences.

Managing the conflict

It is easier to manage a conflict before it develops. It’s therefore important to identify a conflict early on. Conflicts are linked with communication, and you have to talk with your colleague about how you feel. The longer a conflict continues, the bigger and more emotional it can become.

  • Take time to prepare before you engage in dialogue with your colleague.
  • Accept the conflict, and do not blame yourself or your colleague for the conflict. Conflicts occur because we’re only human and we deal with things differently.
  • Think about your own reaction. In conflict situations, we often react by either confrontation or avoidance (the latter is when you choose not to react although you’re feeling angry, sad or irritated). To engage in dialogue, it’s important that you first calm down.
  • Think about the situation and ask yourself:
    • What happened? Be objective
    • Why are you reacting emotionally? How is your colleague’s behaviour affecting you?
    • Try to understand your colleague. What is making he or she react emotionally?

Can you manage the conflict on your own?

Accept if you don’t have the energy to manage the conflict and ask your employer/manager or someone else at your workplace for help before the conflict escalates.

Ask your employer/manager or someone else at your workplace for help if the conflict has escalated and become personal, and you and the other party are no longer on speaking terms.

At this point, your colleagues or others may encourage you and the other party to seek help to resolve the conflict. Perhaps your manager will address and discuss the matter with you. Be open towards those who want to help you, even if this is difficult.

If you’re having a conflict with your immediate manager, seek help from HR, your health and safety representative or your employee representative.

Engage in dialogue

Conflict management requires dialogue. All parties have their say, hear each other out without judging, and stay open and curious. The goal is to find a solution; not to place blame.

The bigger and more personal the conflict has become, the harder it will be to engage in dialogue. But someone has to take initiative. Invite your colleague to have a talk. More likely than not, your colleague will accept. Point out that you want to talk about your relationship. Avoid any form of blame. If your colleague refuses to have a talk, seek help from your manager or elsewhere within in the organisation.

  • Don’t view your colleague as tiresome. Be objective; it’s the situation that’s tiresome.
  • First try to understand your colleague; then, try to make yourself understood.  A person in a conflict will have difficulty listening and will be more interested in explaining and justifying. Briefly describe your version of the situation. Give your opinion and provide specific examples.
  • Be curious and listen to your colleague’s version. Allow your colleague to explain their side of the story. Focus on understanding what your colleague means. If you’re not sure, it’s better to ask one more time.
  • Describe the situation. Say out loud how you see the situation, but without blaming your colleague. Use the first person (‘I’ language). This means you take responsibility and stay on your own turf, so to speak. You invite dialogue. Generalisations are a sign that you’re moving up the conflict ladder. You should therefore:
    • Speak only on your own behalf. Not that of others.
    • Say “I think”, ”I can”, “I will” and “I feel”.
    • Only say things that the other party can also accept as facts. Everything else can be perceived as blaming.
    • Let the other party feel you’re on the same side: “Let’s see what we can do together to resolve the matter.”
  • Use appreciative language. Focus on what you want to achieve, rather than what you want to avoid. Help your colleague to understand your wishes and objectives.
    • Talk about your wishes.
    • Talk about that what works well between you. Talk about the future you want.
    • Acknowledge your differences of opinion.
    • Stay calm and keep eye contact Body language says a lot: stand with your hands and arms open.
    • Take ownership; show your willingness to resolve the conflict. It’s important that your colleague understands your suggestions, and that you listen to what your colleague suggests.

You might not end up agreeing, but you can learn to accept each other’s way of looking at things. If others have been involved in the conflict, then you should talk about how you will tell them that you have resolved the conflict.

It’s not easy and it’s not always possible to resolve and de-escalate a conflict. Remember that you’re not the only person responsible for the conflict; nor for any failure to resolve it. You can train yourself in conflict management, for example by practising active listening and questioning techniques.

Read more


Last revised at Tuesday, July 4, 2023