Combating Conflict at work

Submitted by dayna.springer… on Tue, 01/10/2019
Combating Conflict At Work

Tough times at work?

There are times when conflict at work can be healthy, when it’s a safe place where we can challenge and debate topics with other team members…a place where there’s no blame and differences are valued and respected.

Maybe this feels an almost alien concept to you right now if you’re going through a difficult time at work, maybe there’s been a disagreement, miscommunication and colleagues have fallen out?  You might be caught in the middle of it, or maybe you are on the other end of it…. or could you possibly be the source of it? (let’s face it, none of us are perfect!)

What causes conflict?

We all encounter conflict at some time or other as we go through our daily working lives…we’re all different and we’re not always going to agree on everything.  

We may be disappointed about the way something has happened (or not happened), our feelings may be hurt if we’ve been looked over for promotion or been treated unfairly or someone may have taken it all out on you.  Maybe the conflict is not relational, maybe it’s about a task or activity you do at work or a process you normally follow that’s suddenly been changed without any notice or communication.

However conflict happens, it’s so important to address it, before it gets out of hand and creates even more tension.  

How can it impact us?

It can impact us all in different ways.  

You might typically see a colleague losing motivation, their behaviour might change, their productivity might drop and they could be off sick more often.

There’s some interesting research which has shown that there are four typical responses to conflict:


- FIGHT – we react in a challenging way e.g. we might shout, lose our temper

- FLIGHT – we want to bury our heads in the sand and run away and ignore it, hoping it will go away – this is the most common response

- FREEZE – we don’t know what to do and so become very passive

- FACE – we think it through, plan our approach and address it in a calm and rational way


What would you say your normal response might be to conflict?

Mine typically has been flight, however, God has challenged me and increasingly helped me to face up to conflict situations at work over the last few years, particularly when it involves speaking out for those who haven’t been treated fairly.


How can we work through it?

We can find it hard to speak the truth, in a graceful way, we’re often more concerned about the other person’s feelings and we can struggle to know how to best respond if we genuinely disagree with someone’s point of view.


How we respond to a disagreement or conflict at work is critical.

Here’s a few tips to help you think through how you might work through it best:


  • Pray – ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there’s anything about the situation that you’re not seeing, perhaps there is something in your blind spot about the way you have behaved or reacted or maybe the Holy Spirit will show you something about the other person that helps you to understand where they may be coming from

  • Acknowledge it, don’t pretend nothing has happened but equally think about whether it’s serious enough to talk to someone about or if you should let it drop…is this the first time it’s happened, or the 10th?

  • Take the initiative, follow the biblical principle and speak to the person directly

  • Make sure you choose the right time and place for the conversation

  • Own your part – was there something you could have done or said differently?  

  • If they’ve hurt or offended you, take time to carefully explain, using specific examples if you can, of how a certain situation made you feel e.g. when we were in the meeting last week, it upset me the way you described my work 

  • Give them the benefit of the doubt, it could be that they are going through a tough personal situation and acting more negatively or being more argumentative at work than usual

  • See the goodness in them, think about what you value about them

  • During the conversation, focus on the problem, not the person

  • Listen…carefully to what they have to say, how they say it and their body language

  • It’s natural for both parties to feel defensive, explain you want to understand their point of view and work it out together

  • If your colleague doesn’t seem to be listening or doesn’t seem to want to work it out, then it may be best to either try again another day or leave it for the time being

  • Pray – ask the Holy Spirit to work 


If these steps don’t work and the problem persists, despite you making it clear how the situation is making you feel, you may need to either speak to your manager or to your HR department.

It can be so tough going through times like this at work but being able to resolve conflicts in a positive way is such a key skill in the workplace and will stand you in good stead both in and out of work.


Nicci Birley