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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

Conflict at Work - Part 2: How can you prepare for difficult conversations?

Introduction

How often do you face conflict at work? No matter how integrated and collaborative our work environment is, differences of opinion, objectives, interests, and perspectives are inevitable. These differences are integral to innovation, problem-solving, and performance improvement.[1] However, disagreements can easily make us feel uncomfortable and defensive. Developing the ability to navigate conflict is fundamental to promoting healthy work relationships, opportunities to learn and grow, and a more inclusive environment.[2] But how can we better prepare for conflict situations? In the final installment of this two-part series, we will reflect on steps to help us turn conflict situations into opportunities to grow. Let’s get started!


Can you control your emotions?

We all have a basic impulse to protect ourselves in situations when we consciously or unconsciously detect some level of threat. This is because our brains are wired to help us respond to any strong emotional signal very quickly. It’s our survival mechanism. In these situations, we usually respond emotionally much quicker than we do cognitively, meaning we feel before we think. The part of the brain responsible for these reactions is the amygdala. “When we perceive a threat, the amygdala sounds an alarm, releasing a cascade of chemicals in the body … preparing us for fight or flight.”[3] When this happens, we immediately lose access to our ability to make complex decisions, to consider multiple perspectives, and our memory can become untrustworthy.[3] When our amygdala takes over, our response will be more emotional than rational. This is not useful in conflict situations.


Navigating conflict productively requires us to be in control of our emotions. Some techniques to prevent an emotional hijack include:


  • Being aware of your emotions.

  • Breathing is a powerful tool to help you maintain control during a heightened situation.

  • Listening to understand, not to respond.

  • Asking questions and giving people the opportunity to offer possible solutions. Ask more questions than necessary, as this will get your colleague talking and give you time to consider different points of view.

How to prepare for conflicting situations at work?


1. Understand your options for dealing with conflict.

In the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, Amy Gallo recommends understanding our options for dealing with conflict.[4] The four most common options are to do nothing, to address the conflict indirectly, to address it directly, or to exit the relationship, which is usually the last resource and is not always possible.[4]

2. Define your objectives.[4]

To decide how to address conflict, you need clarity about your goals. What is it that you want to achieve? Make a list of goals that are important to you. This will help you stay focused. These goals can be about projects, work relationships, your workplace attitude, deadlines, and more.[4]


3. It’s not “you against everyone.”

It’s not a war. Sure, there can be times when the stakes are high. However, as indicated in our previous article, you need to have clarity in terms of what the conflict is about. It would be best if you didn’t take the conflict personally, thinking it’s you against everyone. Even if your colleagues aren’t equally responsive, you should work towards finding the balance instead of treating them as adversaries.


4. Plan your message and prepare for multiple scenarios.[4]

Preparing for a conflict discussion requires you to clearly understand your position and your co-workers.[1] Look for clues that will help you have clarity of their intentions, plan your message carefully, and consider the best time to approach the person. Additionally, consider different scenarios and possible courses of action depending on the direction that the conversation goes.


5. Avoid workplace gossip.

Every conflict has different sides, and you might only know one side of the story. It would be best to refrain from gossiping as it might worsen the conflict. The damaging effects of gossip include “erosion of trust, hurt feelings, decreased morale, damaged reputations, reduced personal and professional credibility, increased anxiety, divisiveness, and attrition.”[5]

Always be willing to discuss the conflict constructively and look for positive suggestions for how to solve it.


Final thoughts!

Navigating conflict can be challenging and uncomfortable. However, the results can lead to stronger relationships, better decision-making, and professional growth when handled properly. Proper preparation will help you respond better, establish boundaries, and build better relationships and teams at work. Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments. Also, don’t forget to check out our other great articles!


Research indicates that managers report spending 18% to 26% of their time dealing with conflict in the workplace. Leader Essentials Group can partner with you to implement our comprehensive Conflict Management Master Class training to reduce the impact of conflict within your organization. We’ll help you and your team become more aware of when conflict can be productive and when it can become counterproductive to an organization, particularly in the online environment. Email us at info@leaderessentialsgroup.com or direct message us on LinkedIn to schedule a 15-minute telephone or virtual consultation to learn more!


Check out our other great articles

Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.

_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Gallo, A. (2010). The right way to fight. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from The Right Way to Fight (hbr.org), 05/02/2023. [2]Gallo, A. (2010). Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work (hbr.org), 05/02/2023. [3] Hamilton, D. M. (2015). Calming your brain during conflict. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Calming Your Brain During Conflict (hbr.org), 05/02/2023. [4] Gallo, A. (2017). HBR guide to dealing with conflict (HBR Guide Series). Harvard Business Review Press. [5] Riegel, D. G. (2018). Stop complaining about your colleagues behind their backs. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Stop Complaining About Your Colleagues Behind Their Backs (hbr.org), 05/02/2023.

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