What to do if you’re in conflict with someone at work


Published: 6 Nov 2019

Emotional well-being

It appears that in almost every workplace there will always be one person who ‘rubs you up the wrong way’. It could be their mannerisms. It could be the tone of voice. Their body language. Sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it. You just don’t feel right about them.

Other times you have been getting along ‘normally’ and then one thing happens to put you into conflict with someone. A slight. Being undermined. Lack of consideration. Whatever the ping is, naming it and bringing it out into the open air as soon as possible will always work. Leaving it. Hoping it will magically sort itself out or go away – probably won’t work. And. While you are leaving it, it festers. It causes resentment, anger even?

So, lets backtrack a while and look at something else. There’s a state of being before the ping arrives right at your doorstep with its baggage in tow. This state of being is called ‘letting it go’’. For some people the letting it go stage is really easy. They see or hear things and go straight into “not my circus, not my monkey’s mode”, which means if it’s none of their business, why would they worry.

For others they go into “’Bless you’ mode” which means without too much judgement and a snippet of kindness they are letting it go in the spirit of unconditional love. This is more likely to happen if the ping is an endearing trait that the person is known for, (even if it’s kinda irritating). It’s even more likely to happen if you are a person with the ‘magic scales’. Some people play a balancing act in their relationships where they can let certain things go because people do other things for them, and they know that other people put up with their weird and wonderful quirks too.

What’s not an option in compassionate assertiveness is putting it in the ping cupboard and bringing it out in a future fight. If you let it go in compassionate assertiveness, then it is really gone and forgiven/forgotten.

If you think you could master the letting it go phase, then you would save yourself a world of hurt most days. Imagine yourself as an empty tin can and pings (emotional triggers) as pebbles. In an ideal world (that kept your world joyful and peaceful) you’d keep your can empty. Pings would go in and straight out again, or they wouldn’t go in, in the first place (letting it go).

This sounds great until you get a ping that you can’t let go of, or a ping that’s happened before. Repeat pattern pings are the most dangerous because it’s likely you’ve invited in that kitten (enabled it). You accepted the ping previously, fed it, gave it attention, did nothing to stop it coming back, so why wouldn’t it come back. It found the perfect audience.

Repeat pattern pings are the biggest cause of workplace conflict. Where one person does something the first time asked, and then an assumption is made that it’s now their job to do it. Where someone under-performs and someone else picks up their slack, but doesn’t tell the person (or anyone else in management). Where someone doesn’t do it at all and other people do (and everyone just got used to that.) This state is called ‘the new normal’. The state of being after inviting it in and accepting it, where you just changed the rule (willingly) and it morphed into something else. Sound familiar.

Other repeat patterns and pings in the workplace include: Glory takers (people who steal ideas and pass them off as their own). Saviours (people who like being seen to have done the most). Garden Mulchers (passive aggressive people who whinge a lot but never tell the right person). Bullies (who left unchecked will never stop).

Here’s the truth of the matter, hard to hear as it may be.

Communication starts and ends with you. The good. The bad. And the ugly. It all starts and ends with you. In what you invite in. What you accept. What you say. What you don’t say. What you feel and don’t own, don’t voice, don’t fix.

So, if it doesn’t feel right and you find yourself in conflict the ONLY way out of that ouchy feeling is to deal with it. Dealing with it at the point of impact will always be the quickest and easiest route. Dealing with the actual person who made you feel ouchy in person (and not via a third party) will always be best too.

The disclaimers or caveats for this would be: if you would put yourself in danger. If it would be unprofessional. If either of these apply then either report it to proper authorities that can deal with it for you, or deal with it as soon as you can in private with the person.

Depending on your own communication style you are all thinking very different things about this ‘deal with it’ scenario right now. If you’re assertive, you’re possibly reading this saying to yourself, “Yep, what’s the problem, somebody does something to me I tell them, simple.” And, it is simple for an assertive person. And logical too. Why would they feel a ping and not say something if they need to? But that would terrify other communication styles such as passive, because the last thing they want to do is get into conflict with someone.

It’s a long and winding road for a passive person to find their voice when people put on them, try to manipulate them, or undermine them. Their gut reaction is to do nothing. Their default is to people please, and they don’t always see that as a bad thing. And that’s fine. Each to their own. Until it’s not your own. Passive people lose time putting up with things they found themselves doing for people. They lose time saying yes when they really wanted to say no.

Try this if you’re a more passive person next time you don’t want to do something, or know that you shouldn’t.

What not to say: “I’d love to but…..”. You’ll be leaving the door open a crack for that kitten to sneak back in later. “If no one else put’s their hand up for it, I’ll do it”. If people have got used to you putting your hand up to do it, they’ll let you.

What to say: NO

Oh my goodness I just know that some of you went into a cold sweat there. But, here’s my take on this when I’m coaching passive people to be more assertive. We can skirt around the houses, or we can go the quickest, easiest route to protecting your time. And that route starts with learning how to say no.

Practice with using the actual word no, when you actually mean no, and then add on the graciousness to the end.

“No, I can’t do that, right now, but I’ll be free for 30 minutes at 2pm.”

“No, that’s untrue, what happened was…”

While you’re learning to be more assertive avoid adding the ‘get out clause’ on the end, such as “Does that work for you?”  You don’t want to know that! You’re trying to be more assertive remember?

“No thank you, that’s not my thing, but I really appreciate the offer.” You can turn someone down and still be gracious.

If it sounds simple……that’s because it is. Re-framing communication. Re-setting. Re-programming – whatever you want to call it, starts with doing the deed. Eating that frog early. It does get easier. You just need to start.

Your personal comfort zone in communication has likely been static for a while. We are going to MOVE that comfort zone. Bring you out of the comfy, invisible seat at the back of the bar and out into the main party.

Have I got to the conflict you’re dealing with yet?

What else causes conflict in workplaces? People who betray you, lie to you, throw you under the bus?  Your mind is a whirl with why me/why now/how could they/why would they? Here’s the trick with this type of workplace conflict – whatever you first thought when you first realised what they’d done to you or said about you is what you need to say. You just might need to wrap it up in a compassionately assertive blanket and take out the swear words! Add their name in there for a little sub-conscious flick around the face, and you have flipped them into a state of self-analysis that might just make them think and be accountable for their actions and words.

“Did you realise (name) that what really happened was…?”

“(name) Do you believe that to be true?”

Why would you say that (name)?”

“Can you see how damaging that is (name) when you…?”

“Can you see how I feel (name) when you……?”

I’ve not reached your brand of conflict yet?

What if two people are in conflict in your workplace and it’s not you?

Organise a ‘Re-Set’ meeting. Re-set meetings are fabulous and exactly what they sound like. You can press re-set on an issue that you both have a point of view on that differs, learn to understand more about those differences and thrash out what happens next. Feel like this is out of your league/scope of your job position/over stepping the mark? Then call HR, the owner, someone else who has the liability, and  capability to deal with it and tell them it needs to take place because it’s affecting the workplace for others too.

How it works? Invite the two people to the meeting. Call it what it is – a re-set meeting because of the communication breakdown/issue they have with each other. (important to say each other not – “that you have with Julie or that Julie has with you!) Don’t assume or apportion blame.

A great question I often start with is:

Why do YOU think we are here (name)? And then ask the other person the same question. This helps you assess what you are working with.

How is that making you feel (name) can you put a word to it? Great second question as you get right out in the open what the emotion is around the issue such as: angry, hurt, disappointed etc.

What would you like to see happen next? (ask both sides).

Depending on their answer you’ll have to pitch new questions around what is said.

“I need an apology.” > Are you happy to apologise (name?)

I need to know it won’t happen again.” > “What can we put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again and make it a safe space for you both to work in?”

“I need to know why she did it.” > Help (name) understand what your motivations were when you ….(name)”

Is there anything else either of you would like to say that would be helpful, and productive?

I hope this helps. If I were to sum workplace communication conflict into a 1,2,3 to make it super easy for you it would be this:

  1. Could you let it go if it’s not a repeat ping?
  2. If it is a repeat ping, stop feeding that kitten and don’t do it again. Say something, do something.
  3. Deal with it early. Eat the biggest frog first. Once you’ve done it once, it gets easier.


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