Dealing With Workplace Conflict

OPHC1This information was presented at a Continuing Education Unit at a monthly OPHC meeting.  Feel free to use to enhance your agency.

Leading Well Through the Turmoil

What Kind of Leader in Conflict Are You?

  • Dictator
    1. When Do They Get Involved? Before there’s ever a problem, which is sometimes the cause of the problem!
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? They want to control every person, every decision, every outcome.  It’s all about power and control for this person.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? Micromanagement of individuals and teams;
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- You never have to wonder where this leader stands!  It’s hovering above you!  WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- Overbearing, smothering, and stifles the ability of individuals to work out their problems in a healthy and productive manner.  WHAT ELSE?
  • Psychoanalyst
    1. When Do They Get Involved? They stand back and on the sidelines and don’t get involved unless asked to.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? They feel a need to “fix” the people, not address the problems.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? They try to isolate the parties, “fix” them, and then report back the results to the other parties.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- They do understand that many times the issues are deeper than can be seen from the    WHAT ELSE?
  • Downside(s) of This Leader- Sometimes the problem isn’t the people, but the issues, the policies, the location or a variety of other issues. WHAT ELSE?


  • Buddy
    1. When Do They Get Involved? Progressively as the situation develops, many times based on gossip or prejudicial and slanted perspectives.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? Either to protect their friendship, or because they can’t stand for people to not “get along.”
    3. How Do They Get Involved? Usually at the request of one of the disgruntled parties.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- They are invested emotionally (at least with one of the parties) and will want to see resolution. WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- They may lack objectivity.  WHAT ELSE?
  • Wallflower
    1. When Do They Get Involved? They don’t get involved until the problem is completely out of hand.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? Only because they have been put into the leadership position, and their position forces them to get involved.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? They politely and privately ask permission to help with the situation.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- They are nice people.  WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- People with even a slightly strong personality can run this leader over and never find resolution.  WHAT ELSE?
  • Dad
    1. When Do They Get Involved? After they have personally been affected by the conflict.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? They get involved only after your problems have annoyed them.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? This leader explodes on whoever has dared to disrupt their routine or cause them grief.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- This kind of leader typically hates bullies, and will deal quickly and effectively with them.  WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- Many times they are oblivious to fairly serious problems; but as long as the problems don’t affect them, they don’t notice or don’t care. WHAT ELSE?
  • Referee
    1. When Do They Get Involved? Conflict doesn’t seem to bother them UNTIL they see it is the result of broken rules.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? This person is the strict “rule enforcer” of policies and procedures.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? They typically go straight to the rule book, and communicate through documentation.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- Making sure staff work within the approved guidelines can keep you out of legal trouble later.  WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- Their attachment to the rule book comes before the people involved, or even the good of the organization.  WHAT ELSE?
  • Ostrich
    1. When Do They Get Involved? They rarely get involved, if ever.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? They avoid getting involved because they hate conflict, or they are afraid to.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? Butt first.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader-   WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- Conflict left unaddressed rarely gets better, and nearly always gets worse.  WHAT ELSE?
  •  Mediator
    1. When Do They Get Involved? The best kind of leader in conflict.  They assess each situation individually, and determine whether inserting themselves quickly, or allowing those in conflict the time and space to work it out.
    2. Why Do They Get Involved? They not only have the best intentions for the organization, but for the team members as well.  They take their responsibility as a leader seriously.
    3. How Do They Get Involved? They observe closely, they communicate effectively, they treat people with respect, and they stick to the issues while understanding the personalities involved.
    4. Upside(s) of This Leader- They are effective.  WHAT ELSE?
    5. Downside(s) of This Leader- There just aren’t enough of this kind of leader.  WHAT ELSE?


Before The BOOM

I don’t expect you to remember every point, but as we go through, underline or circle at least THREE points to remember!


  • Accept the Facts- Conflict is Inevitable
    1. You will argue with yourself… of course there will be conflict with others!
    2. No Conflict means No Risk; No Risk means No Reward
    3. QUESTION- What are some of the issues of conflict you’ve seen in a home care office? What about among caregiving staff?
  • Consider What Might Have Caused the Conflict
    1. Dig beyond the surface issue… see if there is a cause behind the cause.
    2. Dig beyond the surface… see if there are other people behind the issue.
    3. What are the Various Issues that might have caused conflict?
  • Workspace
  • Policies
  • No Policies
  • Pettiness
  • Territorialism
  • Jealousy
  • Personalities
  • Deadlines
  • Schedules
  • Insecurity


  • Control Yourself & Your Reactions- Count to Ten
    1. Don’t let tensions or issues that have built up cause you to over react.
    2. Leaders deal with conflict effectively based the issues, not their personalities, personal preferences or prejudices, or favorites.
    3. Be honest… 1) Do you have or have you had either favorites or anti-favorites? Do you have or have you had pet peeves or pet projects? If so, how can that impact conflict situations?
  • Create Consequences through Effective Policies
    1. A large percentage of lawsuits come out of ineffective policies.
    2. Be consistent as you deal with issues, and allow your policies to shape and guide that consistency.
    3. What would you say are some of the most critical conflict related policies that must be clear and effective?
  • Design & Effectively Manage Clear Communication Pathways
    1. Give employees a variety of opportunities to communicate with subordinates, co-workers and bosses.
    2. Give employees a variety of methods to communicate with subordinates, co-workers and bosses.
    3. How do your staff members communicate across the food chain? What seems to be the most effective means? The least effective means?
  • Choose Your Battles Well
    1. Not every issue has to be Armageddon.
    2. Don’t respond to every invitation or dare to get involved.
    3. What kinds of conflict do you think are critical for the leader to be involved in? What kinds of stuff should the leaders stay out of?
  • Establish a “No Gossip” Policy
    1. The best way to “nip it in the bud” is to “nip it in the bud”!
  • DEFINE Gossip… what is it? What is it not?Don’t listen to it, to speak it yourself.


  • Develop a Solid Understanding of Generational Differences
    1. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millenials… they all have different world views, values & perspectives on conflict.
    2. Read “Stereotypes Associated with the Generations”.
    3. What kinds of potential conflict do you see that is “generationally based”?


  • Follow the Rules Yourself
    1. Nature abhors a vacuum… work environments abhor a double standard.
    2. DISCLAIMER- Not everyone deserves to be treated equally, because not everyone is equal. Bosses have different schedules… but if the rule is “Be on time”, then the boss ought to have a time he/she can be expected in, and should be there on time.
    3. What does having a set of double standards do for morale?


  • Understand the WIIFM Factor (What’s In It For Me) for Your Team
    1. A leader helps the team members develop a win-win attitude.
    2. This happens best if it’s developed along the way.
    3. This can happen in the midst of conflict with active listening and working both as a mediator & reconciler.


  • Meet with Staff Individually & Corporately on a Consistent Basis
    1. Group- 5 Minute stand up staff meetings; All staff meetings; events to build relationships (lunch, holidays).
    2. Individual- Weekly individual meetings; daily email or “drop by” comments.
    3. What are the most important things for you to discuss weekly with staff, so that conflict is kept to a minimum?


  • Determine if there are Core Cultural Issues at Stake
    1. Some conflict is based on the actions or attitudes of workers.
    2. Other conflict is founded on disagreements regarding Ethics, Values, Authority Structure…
    3. What else would you say are Core Cultural Issues, and how can they affect conflict?
  • Listen Carefully
    1. Listening doesn’t come naturally.
    2. Listening is active, not passive.
    3. Listening means forcing yourself to consider the possibility that YOU might not understand, or worse yet, YOU might be wrong!
  • Welcome the Conflict
    1. Conflict can clear the cloudy air of unresolved anger.
    2. Conflict can clean up the clutter of uncertainty.
    3. Conflict can lay a foundation of guiding principles.
    4. Conflict can build a strong team for positive organizational growth.

When It Hits the Fan

  • Make Dealing with Conflict in its Early Stages a Priority
    1. Once you’ve determined you should be involved, don’t allow things to blow up because of your inactivity.
    2. Getting involved early doesn’t mean getting involved without facts or understanding.
    3. What factors would cause you to get involved in a conflict very early on?
  • Be Open Minded as You Approach Conflict
    1. If necessary, play the Devil’s Advocate in your mind BEFORE ever confronting the conflicting parties- it may help with objectivity.
    2. What does being “open minded” mean to you?
    3. It’s easy to allow previous experiences and conflicts to taint your perspective.
  • Allow a Cool-Down Period
    1. If a physical separation of those in conflict is necessary and possible, then make it happen. Play each case by ear.
    2. Sometimes our rush to “fix” things unfairly pushes people to work towards a solution before they are ready to even discuss the issue.
    3. What suggestions would you offer to very angry individuals that could help them relax or calm down?
  • Be Respectful of Differences
    1. Just because you may not agree with someone’s perspective doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit, so be cautious about being harsh.
    2. Courtesy and dignity during conflict resolution are lost arts; revive them and do them with excellence.
    3. What are the top three practices you would expect of others in showing their respect?
  • Choose your Geography Well for Where You Deal With Conflict
    1. There is nothing to be gained from public conflicts.
    2. No matter where the ensuing conflict resolution takes place, assume a position that affords you the ability to lead and direct the process.
    3. What are the pros and cons of working through conflict “on campus” vs. “off campus”?
  • Determine Your Objective for the Desired Outcome
    1. This can happen best if you have some time to investigate, ask preliminary questions & think.
    2. Objectives ought to be about what’s RIGHT first, what’s best for the ORGANIZATION second, and for the INDIVIDUALS third.
    3. How do you determine what is RIGHT?
  • Give Everyone Involved a Voice & Fair Time to Speak
    1. Speak those expectations as the beginning of the meeting.
    2. Lay out the ground rules for respect & open mindedness.
    3. What should the leader do if someone is abusing this process?
  • Repeat Back What You Are Hearing the Problems Are
    1. After each person has shared, say, “What I’m hearing you say is…” Make sure you’re actually hearing what they are saying, and that THEY are saying what they mean.
    2. Give time for the conflicting parties to respond, but make sure they are dealing with issues not personhood.
    3. What do you think about having someone take notes for accurate recounting of the process and the results later?
  • Identify the Consequences of both Resolved and Unresolved Conflict
    1. It’s wise to understand that the conflict may not be resolved. That ending, however, has its own consequences.  Make sure all understand that.
    2. Keeping the positive outcomes in front of those in the conflict makes a positive outcome more likely.
  • Understand the Opposite Side Upside, & Your Side Down Side
    1. Take the necessary time to prepare… Write out the positive aspects of both perspectives, and the negative aspects as well.
    2. Seek some outside, objective input when looking for the ups and downs.
    3. Make notes of at least three people whose advice you would trust to advise you as you deal with conflict.
  • Be Mindful of your Choice of Words- Be Objective & Professional
    1. Conflict can be incredibly emotional.
    2. Don’t get swept up in the moment or in the issue.
    3. Be slow to speak… speak slowly… choose your words for maximum impact.
  • Avoid Personalizing the Conflict
    1. Attacks on personhood should not be made or allowed.
    2. Digging up the archive of “past wrongs” is not acceptable either.
    3. Help everyone stay focuses on whatever the “issue” is.
  • Don’t Allow Strong Personalities to Rule the Day
    1. No progress is made if strong personalities are allowed to bully other parties.
    2. Strong doesn’t just mean bully; it could be a strong victim, a strong whiner or a strong manipulator.
    3. What would you do if you found yourself mediating a situation where on party was overbearing and being a bully?
  • Keep a Record of Any Legal Concerns
    1. Documentation is your best friend.
    2. If there are strong concerns, ask permission to record the conversation.
    3. Whether you record the conversation or not, you must take good notes yourself.

Forging A Peace

  • Obey the 101% Rule- Find 1% You Agree On, & Give it 100% of Your Effort
    1. Work hard and fast to find common ground.
    2. Seek consensus on how to focus best on the common ground.
  • Quickly Remind About Previous Resolution if the Same Problem Reappears
    1. Document the resolution for the future, in the event the same problem arises. A gentle reminder that you’ve already been down that road and the agreement that was reached can be enough to avoid round 2 of the same problem.
    2. A certain finesse is necessary in reminding people of past resolutions; if not, then a deeper, new problem can blow up.
  • Ask Rather than Dictate Regarding Possible Solutions
    1. It really is that simple… Ask, “What do you think should happen”?
    2. Offer alternative options for consideration, or for blending with other ideas.
  • Be Open to Compromise
    1. Understand that in nearly every conflict there is compromise.
    2. You are able to help conflicting parties be open to compromise by your attitude as the leader.
    3. What would be some important body language for you to remember to help facilitate compromise?
  • Take a Risk
    1. It’s scary to be quiet and allow others to wrestle through issues.
    2. It’s frightening to be still and let silence have its own impact.
    3. It’s most frightening to offer your own input… because they might actually follow your advice!
  • Apologize or Suggest Apologies Be Made if Necessary
    1. Finding a solution doesn’t resolve wounded feelings.
    2. One doesn’t have to admit being wrong to truly be sorry for causing others hurt.
  • Act with Authority at the Appropriate Time
    1. You may need to ask probing questions to flesh out the real problem.
    2. You may need to ask someone to be quiet if they are out of line.
    3. Above all, you are responsible for continuing to point all parties in the right direction of reconciliation.
  • Seek Out Counsel or Assistance
    1. Be smart enough to ask for advice.
    2. Be brave enough to take help with you into the conflict resolution.
    3. Be visionary enough to look for solutions that others may not see.
  • Make Sure Resolution is Genuine
    1. This can’t be seen at the time of resolution. It requires follow up over time.
    2. Spend some eyeball to eyeball, one on one time with each party, alone, to see if the resolution was genuine with them.
  • Continue to Build Team Spirit
    1. Look for opportunities to provide experiences that build a sense of teamwork.
    2. Create situations where former adversaries have a chance to support or to encourage each other.
    3. What have been some successful ways you’ve helped rebuild relationships among people who’ve been in conflict with each other?
  • Continually Cast the Vision & Values of Your Company
    1. If individual team members share the same core values and vision for the organization, it goes a long way towards avoiding trivial conflict in the future.
    2. Memories are short, so recast the vision often and in different and creative ways.
    3. Do you know what the key values of your company even are?
  • Show Genuine Appreciation for Resolved Conflict
    1. Thank them in front of each other.
    2. Write a personal note later.
    3. Brag on them in front of others, but make sure you stay focused on solved problems, not on personalities
  • Truly Care More about People than Issues, Even Difficult People
    1. Some people are harder to like than others. It’s true.
    2. Just remember, you’re a work in progress too, and at one time YOU were someone else’s problem child.
    3. What are the qualities or characteristics in co-workers that annoy you the most?
  • Give People the Benefit of the Doubt
    1. When you don’t know the facts, details or completely understand the situation thoroughly, give people the benefit of the doubt.
    2. Crow tastes nasty when others force feed you; it tastes worse when you have to feed it to yourself. Guard your mouth and measure your words.  Less said is better.


What else?


Web Resources


Book Resources

  • The Character Based Leader, Multiple Authors
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni
  • Entreleadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches, Dave Ramsey
  • When Generations Collide, Lynne Lancaster & David Stillman