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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: March 18th, 2024

We’ve all been there. That moment, a disagreement ignites, transforming your sharp-suited colleagues into a feuding cast of reality TV stars… minus the cameras and potential endorsement deals. You know conflict is unavoidable in the business world, yet somehow, you always feel caught off guard, wishing for a rewind button or maybe a trapdoor for a quick exit. 

Do you know, according to a study, people with higher job positions often deal with conflict issues that can make them feel really stressed over time? 

Workplace conflict. It’s the awkward, tension-filled elephant in the room (sadly, not the kind that brings party favors). 

It makes your stomach churn, messes with your focus, and can turn a harmonious team into a cage match of competing agendas. And let’s be real, sometimes you just want to avoid the whole mess…or maybe unleash your inner Hulk. 

Another study shows that conflict affects 85% of employees’ working lives, costing US corporations around $359 billion annually.

So, how do you learn to face conflict head-on and come out stronger on the other side? It’s not about becoming an aggressive negotiator or a timid wallflower. The secret to successfully dealing with conflict is finding the perfect balance – a way to assert yourself without steamrolling others. 

This post is your guide to finding that sweet spot. Let’s ditch those imaginary superhero suits and learn how to deal with a conflict in a way that makes you proud of the leader in the mirror.

HOW To Deal With A Conflict
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Here’s the roadmap of our discussion in this article:

The Ostrich vs. The Bulldozer

The Ostrich Approach: When Problems Magically Disappear (They Don’t)

Picture this: You’ve got a simmering conflict with a colleague. Your natural instinct is to do the corporate equivalent of sticking your head in the sand. Emails go unread, eye contact becomes an Olympic sport, and you secretly hope the whole issue will just…go away.

Unfortunately, conflicts don’t play by those rules. They’re more like toddlers throwing tantrums – the more you ignore them, the louder they get. Unresolved issues fester, stress levels skyrocket, and suddenly, that minor disagreement has become a full-blown crisis. It’s the reason projects get mysteriously delayed, teams become dysfunctional, and the office atmosphere feels about as pleasant as a root canal.

A study shows that 56% of employees who experienced conflict at work reported that it led them to stress, anxiety, and/or depression. 40% reported being less motivated.

The Bulldozer Method: Winning the Battle, Losing the War

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Bulldozer. This executive sees conflict as a personal challenge and responds with overwhelming force. Opinions are flattened, feelings are collateral damage, and the boardroom becomes less a place of collaboration and more a battlefield.

Sure, the bulldozer might get things done in the short term, but the aftermath is messy. Relationships are damaged, reputations are tarnished, and everyone starts tiptoeing around for fear of triggering the next outburst. This is the kind of environment where innovation dies, and employees start quietly updating their resumes.

An average of 485,800 employees resign each year due to conflict, and the cost of recruiting replacement employees amounts to £2.6 billion yearly.

So, what’s the alternative?

The truth is, successfully navigating conflict isn’t about burying your head or bulldozing your way through. It’s about finding that sweet spot between ostrich and bulldozer, a place where you can address issues head-on without sacrificing respect or relationships. Think of it as the “assertive ninja” approach – strategic, respectful, and focused on positive outcomes.

Click on the image to see a full infographic (opens in new tab)

A survey revealed that more than 93%of professionals see conflict management as an important leadership skill. 

Key Takeaway: Avoiding a problem doesn’t make it go away, and aggression only creates new ones. But learning how to deal with a conflict effectively? That’s a leadership superpower.

Your Conflict Resolution Toolkit 

Talk Less, Understand More: The Superpower of Active Listening

Forget flashy gadgets; your most potent conflict-buster is already inside your head: active listening. Think of yourself as Sherlock Holmes – every word, every pause, every frustrated sigh is a clue leading to the heart of the issue. Active listening means focusing less on crafting your clever comeback and more on truly understanding the other person.

How to turn into a listening ninja:

  • Paraphrase Power: Prove you’re paying attention by summarizing what you’ve heard. (“So, you feel like the project deadline is unrealistic…”)
  • Ask the Right Questions: Open-ended questions dig deeper than a simple “yes/no.” (“What would make this project timeline more manageable?”)
  • Eye Contact = Respect: Don’t let your gaze wander. This shows you’re engaged and value the other person’s thoughts.
Click on the image to see a full infographic (opens in new tab)

The Mind Meld: Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

Sometimes, the best way to resolve a conflict is to temporarily ditch your own shoes. Empathy, the ability to feel with someone, helps you see things from their perspective. It might not change your opinion, but it does dissolve that stubborn “us vs. them” mentality that gets in the way of solutions. Think of yourself as a less pointy-eared Vulcan.

A post from Michigan State University emphasizes that by prioritizing empathy, active listening, and collaborative problem-solving, individuals can cultivate a culture of understanding and constructive conflict resolution.

How to boost your empathy skills:

  • Role Reversal Rumble: Argue the opposite side of what you believe. It forces you to consider different angles.
  • Empathy Map It Out: Draw a simple chart with quadrants labeled “Says,” “Does,” “Thinks,” and “Feels.” Fill it in as if you were the other person.
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The Chess Game: Negotiate Your Way to Success

Not every conflict is solved with a warm hug and a “let’s all agree” moment. Sometimes it takes careful negotiation to reach a win-win. Think less “checkmate!” and more “how does this benefit everyone?”.

Tips for mastering conflict chess:

  • Preparation is Key: Don’t just wing it. Know what you want and what you’re realistically willing to compromise on.
  • “What If…?” Wins: Brainstorm potential solutions before the meeting, even unlikely ones. It sparks creativity.
  • It’s a Process, Not a Race: Sometimes, you need several sessions to reach that sweet spot of agreement.

Key Takeaway: Dealing with a conflict isn’t always about being right. It’s about doing right by yourself, your team, and the company.

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Leveling Up Your Conflict Toolkit (When Things Get Tricky)

Mindfulness: The Not-So-Secret Weapon

Imagine your typical conflict: raised voices, tense shoulders, and a general sense that everyone’s blood pressure is spiking. Now, picture yourself in the middle of it…but feeling remarkably calm. That’s the power of mindfulness.

According to a study, mindfulness can be an effective tool for promoting constructive conflict management in organizations by increasing collaboration and reducing conflict avoidance. 

Mindfulness isn’t about chanting mantras or levitating above your desk (though that’d be a cool boss move). It’s about being present in the moment, even when that moment is stressful. Think of it as creating a tiny gap between “thing happens” and “you blow your top.”

How mindfulness beats conflict:

  • Breathe In, Stress Out: Simple, focused breathing before a tough meeting keeps you centered.
  • The Mindful Stroll: Stuck? A quick walk around the block can clear your head like a power nap.
  • Anger Translator: Mindfulness helps you see your emotions, not be ruled by them.
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The Digital Peacemaker: When Tech Lends a Hand

From AI-powered chatbots to fancy conflict resolution platforms, tech is stepping into the ring. These tools can be surprisingly helpful:

  • The Neutral Zone: Online platforms give everyone a safe space to air their grievances.
  • Data-Driven Diplomacy: Some tools track past conflicts, helping to spot patterns and prevent future ones
  • Emotion Detector 5000: OK, not yet, but some tech can analyze tone, reminding everyone to keep things civil.

Important Note: Tech is a sidekick, not a replacement for good human judgment!

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The Global Diplomat: Building Bridges, Not Walls

Today’s executives need to be a part business leaders part cultural anthropologists. Why? Because misunderstandings happen when different cultures collide, and that can create major conflict. The solution? Respect, curiosity, and a willingness to see things from a different angle.

According to oxford research, business anthropology helps leaders in a way of using ideas and ways of studying human societies to help understand and improve different parts of businesses, like how they organize, advertise, and design things, all while considering different cultures. It’s really useful because it helps businesses be more ethical (doing the right thing) and creative in how they work and solve problems.

Tips for navigating cultural complexities:

  • Do Your Homework: Learn about the cultural norms of the people you work with.
  • Communication is Key: Be clear and concise and double-check for understanding.
  • Seek the Common Ground: Focus on shared goals, even if the methods to reach them differ.

Key Takeaway: How to deal with a conflict at the office isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. By mastering these extra skills, you’ll be ready for whatever twists and turns come your way.

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Final Thoughts 

Let’s be honest; no one really enjoys conflict. But think of this whole guide as your transformation from someone who’d rather hide under a desk than face a disagreement to the kind of leader who tackles tension with confidence. 

It’s your key to becoming the person everyone else hopes is in the room when things get messy.

So, what’s the takeaway? Handling conflict well isn’t just about ending the argument; it’s about leveling up as a leader. It’s about becoming a better listener, a calmer negotiator, and a more empathetic problem-solver.

Here’s your action plan:

  • The Listening Challenge: Next time there’s a disagreement, truly listen. Summarize the other person’s points, ask questions…make it about them, not your counterargument.
  • Breathe Before You Burst: Feeling your temperature rising? A few deep breaths before a tough meeting can mean the difference between diplomacy and disaster.
  • See Conflict as Growth: This is hard, but try to view each tense situation as a chance to become a better version of yourself.

This stuff takes practice, and there will still be moments when you wish for that superhero cape. But remember, real power isn’t about steamrolling others. True power lies in handling the toughest situations with grace and respect.

Think of it this way: the next time a conflict emerges, you’re not facing a battle…you’re facing a boss-level challenge in the game of leadership. And with the tools we’ve covered, you’re well-equipped to beat it.

The Bottom Line

How to deal with conflict effectively is a skill that will benefit you far beyond the boardroom. It creates stronger teams and smoother processes, and most importantly, makes you the leader everyone admires (and maybe slightly fears in that good, respectful way). So go forth and conquer those conflicts!


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