How to Handle Conflict at Work – The Skills You Need


I recently had a major conflict with a good friend of mine, and although it wasn’t in the workplace, it could apply there as well. There was an exchange of harsh words, with strong emotions that were out of control. It has just recently been resolved, so much of this writing is to myself, with the additional hope that it will be a tool for those that need help in this area.

There are many solutions to handle conflict at work, but I’m only going to focus on one of them. It is a model that explains the three ways people choose to respond to conflict. It provides skills that can bring resolution to a difficult situation, and has practical applications for dealing with conflicts at work, in your marriage, or any other relationship.


The AIM Method

To begin with let me define conflict. Dr. Bill Graybill (author of Resolve Conflict God’s Way) says, “It is a difference of opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.” Another way of looking at this is by picturing what it looks like when the desires of two people collide. You’ve been there, right? Neither person is getting what they want or expect, and then…lots of emotions run wild, and trying to get it under control seems nearly impossible. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and you don’t have a clue how to resolve this mess.

How do most people respond to conflict? I will use an acrostic below that describes the three ways people choose to respond. It is called the AIM method.

  • Attack – in order to get what you want, be on the offensive, and don’t give in.
  • Ignore – don’t pay attention to the conflict, and it will go away in time.
  • Manage – deal with the issue in a face-to-face meeting (or with a mediator if necessary) with the other person. 

Listed below are the probable outcomes of these responses. 

Would You Rather Be Right Than Happy? 

When a person responds to conflict in the attack mode, he or she is basically saying, “I’d rather be right than happy!” It is the opposite of a win-win situation. In fact, it is a win-lose, where stubbornness and pride rear its ugly head to proclaim, “I will not back down, I will never lose!”

Now the door to clear communication and understanding is completely shut, which can easily lead to the next outcome: abuse. This may be expressed as a form of control through yelling in anger.  Other types of abuse occur when a person is treated cruelly or violently on a regular basis. Regardless of the form it takes, abuse always has a devastating long term result. Since these all arise in the attack mode, this reaction as a means of dealing with conflict always has a negative effect, and, for obvious reasons, is never the best choice.

Ignore: Sweep It Under the Carpet

To ignore the issues is the most common way of handling conflict, hoping it will go away – like sweeping the dirt under the carpet. In regards to conflict, most people believe that if it is out of sight, it is certainly out of mind. The biggest problem with handling it in this way is that, in reality, the conflict never goes away. In fact, it will probably fester like an infection that is not properly cared for. 

Many people lie to themselves when they hold on to the belief that if they ignore conflict and do not seek a resolution, it will all be OK. We also call this “living in denial.” Resolving conflict takes courage, mixed with true humility. Running away from it, or denying its existence, will ultimately lead to total delusion and a big step away from reality.

Let’s face it, conflict happens. Get over attacking and ignoring, and get on with living in the real world and solving the problem.

Manage Yourself, Manage the Conflict 

The initial reaction to conflict is the opposite of what I am about to propose, but is an essential first step to resolution. In your gut, you will not want to do this, but you must first overlook the offense. Say what? And give the person (the offender) some slack?

At this point, you can choose to attack or ignore, but if you are humble and willing to offer the offender compassion, the end result will benefit each person involved.  

If resolution happens at this point, the next step will not be necessary. In most cases, however, you will need to prepare yourself for a face-to face meeting. Beforehand, both parties will need to take a look at their own anger and frustration, and ultimately take responsibility for themselves and their actions. This may take some time, although in my case that I mentioned above, I chose to approach the other person when we saw each other a few days later. And voila! We resolved the conflict very quickly, and are moving forward to improving our relationship. 

When conflict cannot be resolved in a face-to-face meeting, a mediator (a neutral person is recommended) needs to brought into the situation. A plan for long-term plan can be laid out, so that when conflict arises again, resolution can come about sooner.

Understanding Conflict

Conflict is a part of life, like it or not. How we deal with it is crucial to creating stronger relationships. There is a proverb that I like to use when describing conflict: “Iron sharpens iron, just as one friend sharpens another.” Along with the shavings that are left behind, a stronger and greater bond of friendship is created.

A word of encouragement to remember when you are resolving conflict. Resolve (or better stated as re-solve) means that you are finding answers to an issue that has arose again, which means that you are on the road to becoming a better communicator and a person that is taking full responsibility for his or her actions. 

Allan Siegel

Life Coach


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