• Career
January 8, 2017

5 Proven Strategies To Conquer Workplace Conflict

I love workplace conflict said, NO ONE. EVER. Still, it’s an absolute certainty that at some point in your leadership career, you will face a workplace conflict. Count on it. It’s as certain as a telemarketer calling at dinnertime.

As a leader, you want to handle conflicts as quickly as possible to minimize the impact on productivity. Here are 5 Strategies To Improve Your Conflict Management Skills.

Think you’re pretty good at handling conflict?  Find out by taking the quick quiz.  Click here to start.


1. Check your emotions at the door

For many leaders, the mere thought of a conflict generates stress. Stress creates elevated levels of cortisol which impacts our ability to think clearly. Think about some times you’ve been under a lot of stress. Did you notice that mentally, you were little slower than usual? Were you confused, plagued by negative thoughts, have trouble concentrating? Better yet, how many times have you left a conflict only to think, “I wish I would have said [fill in the blank].” These are all documented effects of stress on our brains.

If the mere thought of a workplace conflict makes your blood pressure rise and your hands sweat, your stress level is going up and your brain power is going down. Your emotions are high-jacking your brain. In this state, you can’t harness all your brain-power so you can do you best solutions thinking.

You need to relax so you can perform at your peak. Many of my clients rave about the benefits of deep breathing and visualization. Sometimes meditation and visualization can be a bit daunting when you first start. Thank goodness for apps. I love Headspace. It’s awesome and keeps me well grounded. I have many clients that rave about it as well. There’s a free trial. Click on the picture to learn more.



2. Change Your Thinking

Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. We assign good and bad values to it. That value is based on our past experiences or because we have never mastered constructive ways to handle it.

Conflict can be good. It can bubble up new ideas and help your team perform better. It can speed up the support of ideas and help you get problems and disagreements in the open. This way they don’t fester and mushroom into even larger issues.

Patrick Lencioni author of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,’ (widely considered one of the best books on team-building) shares this, “Productive Teams are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.”

  •  What are your thoughts about workplace conflict?
  •  How are those thoughts helping you?
  •  What are some other ways you think about the conflict that might be more productive?


3. Recognize Violent Agreement

Some years ago, I learned the term, “VIOLENT AGREEMENT.”

While discussing a project with a peer, we passionately laid out our proposal approaches. In fact, we fought for our respective approaches. At a certain point, my colleague paused and said, “I think we’re in violent agreement.” If I were standing outside myself, I literally would have seen a light bulb flash over my head. He was right. We were saying the exact same thing but using different words. We were both so enthusiastic about our ideas that we didn’t realize we were actually in agreement.

Violent Agreement occurs when you are in conflict with someone and so passionate about your point that you fail to realize you are in agreement. Imagine that. There may not even be a conflict.

To avoid landing in Violent Agreement, make sure you are practicing active Listening. Listening is a critical skill for leaders. Are you a good listener? Not sure? Check out my blog:  3 Signs You’re Hearing But Not Listening (and what to do about it)

4. Understand the Other Person’s Perspective

One of the most effective questions to ask yourself when in a conflict is: “What’s the other persons’ perspective?”

When my clients are in a conflict, I often ask them, “What would the other person tell me about the conflict?” The typical response is a blank stare and silence. Crickets. It’s a light bulb above the head moment for them when they realize they where the other person is coming from.

Seek First To Understand is one of Stephen’s Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s one of the 7 Habits for a Reason. It’s impossible to successfully maneuver a conflict without understanding the other persons’ viewpoint.

Don’t be surprised if you find that the other’s perspective is different than yours. Our workplaces are filled with people shaped by their experiences, values, education, and more. These inputs come together to form their perspective. It’s not wrong. It’s just different. If you had the same experiences as them, you might see things exactly as they do.

5. Avoid the “Scorched Earth” strategy

In the military, there’s a strategy called Scorched Earth. The military advances and burns down anything that might be useful to their enemy. It sounds scary, right? Yet it’s exactly what happens when we approach a conflict situation with the intent of winning at all costs. It sets up a me versus them situation and will not help you reach a solution that may work for everyone involved.

You leave the other person bloodied, battered and without a place to go. It’s an “I win, you lose” outcome. If you win this way, you still lose. You’ve damaged a relationship and strong relationships are vital to your success as a leader.


A far more productive approach is finding common ground and helping the other person win. It can be the smallest of concessions but remember that everyone likes to win. It’s human nature.

Use any of these three questions to source out a way for the other person to win:

  • What’s most important to you in this situation?
  • For you to feel good about this situation, what needs to happen?
  •  How can we meet half way?

Using these questions and showing interest in helping the other person win allows them to save face and leaves them feeling good about you as their leader.


There’s no use fooling ourselves. Most of us will still never be the person saying, “I love conflict!” You don’t have to. Instead, use the skills shared here help you get better at mastering this leadership skill. It will serve you well at work and at home.

Take this quick quiz for feedback on your conflict management skills.  Click here to start.

Have some other leadership questions? Check out some of my other tips:
First Time Manager?  Check Out These Top Tips

7 Strategies to Improve Team Performance

Top Tools For Managing Your next Project

Are You The World’s Worst Boss? (8 Telltale Signs and what to do about it)



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Teresa Wallace
President, Agility Leadership Coaching
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