Conflicts at Work and How to Deal With Them

Conflicts can cause stress, reduce motivation, and increase anxiety. In the worst cases, they can lead to dismissals. But under certain conditions, they can also contribute to more trusting relationships with colleagues and higher achievements.

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Why do conflicts arise, what are the approaches to their resolution, and how to voice your needs to turn conflict into positive change?

Conflict Cannot Be Avoided but Negative Consequences Can Be Avoided

The perception of conflict is formed in childhood: we see parents or other adults arguing, try to do it ourselves and take the patterns into adulthood. That’s why for some, conflict is a verbal altercation, and for others, its silent resistance. This is the kind of individual experience we bring to work as well. One person on a team will see a raised tone as conflict, while another will see a calm refusal.

It’s impossible to control differences in perception and the causes of conflict, but it’s possible to influence its effects. If contradictions are silenced, the results will be disappointing. And constructive crisis resolution can strengthen teams and polish processes.

Typical Causes of Conflict at Work

Mistakes during the process of accepting/transferring information and tasks. That’s the most common situation: someone misunderstood someone else, they didn’t do what was necessary, there are mutual claims.

  • Lack of communication skills. You need to learn to criticize and take criticism constructively. Those who have difficulties in providing feedback should focus not only on the content of the thought but also on its formulation. It’s important to convey your position in such a way that the person understands that you aren’t against them personally – but for them, for the team and for the success of the work. If you receive harsh, destructive feedback, ask your colleague to learn non-violent communication.
  • Role Confusion. It’s worth remembering what position you are in at work. You’re part of a team, but definitely not a slave, family member, or friend. With colleagues, you are united by common goals and aren’t obliged to fulfill any other role than the one that was spelled out in the offer.

5 Conflict Resolution Strategies

Similar to, in conflict resolution, there are certain strategies. American psychologist Kenneth Thomas identifies 5 typical ways of conflict resolution. Among them there are no right and wrong, harmful or useful. Wrong can be their use in specific cases or the use of only one for all situations.


Pretending as if nothing has happened is avoidance. On a regular basis, this strategy is harmful because it solves nothing. However, it can help when you need to take a break to calm your emotions and think about options going forward.


If a manager and a subordinate are in conflict, they cannot reach an agreement and the manager insists on his decision, he applies the strategy of rivalry. It’s effective in conditions when a decision has to be made quickly, there is no time to search for the best, the manager takes responsibility for the consequences and does as they see fit. If the conflict is long-lasting, this strategy will harm relations in the team.


This strategy refers to when an employee voluntarily or involuntarily sacrifices his or her own interests. Adaptation, like rivalry, is characterized by conflicts between supervisors and subordinates. In the long run, both can deteriorate relationships and demotivate. To prevent this from happening, take care to communicate the final decision carefully and transparently.


In this strategy, we examine everyone’s interests, prioritize those that will bring the greatest common good, and sacrifice the less essential ones to achieve the goal. The approach is worth taking when the most important thing is the outcome.


Develop a way out of the conflict that takes into account the interests of all parties. The focus here is on preserving team relationships and a common search for the best solution. This strategy can be the most effective, but requires a certain level of communication skills.

How to Build Communication During Conflict Resolution

Describe the situation so that the person sees it through your eyes. For example, “It just so happens that…” or “From my side it looks like…”

For communication, choose the self-messaging strategy formulated by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication. For example, “I think you’re wrong” or “I think you misunderstood me.” Don’t claim to be objective by saying “You’re wrong” or “You have a prejudice against me” unless you want the other person to take it as an attack or offense.

State your needs or goals. For example, “We need to resolve this situation because it affects…”

Support your position with arguments and explanations. “We need a month for this project so we can do a better job and move on to the next tasks.” During the conversation, remind yourself of the purpose of the meeting: “to improve the relationship”, “to be more comfortable”, “for a good outcome”.

Make a suggestion. For example, “Let’s share our perspectives on this situation. I can start and suggest ideas, and then you tell me your vision” or “Would we solve the problem if we did…”

By offering your options and letting the other person speak, you show that you are committed to finding the best solution.

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