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You Can Run But You Can’t Hide: Dealing With Conflict/Discord In The Workplace

Written by: Patricia K. Suggs, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Corporations/Businesses have to deal with many issues but one that can cause them a lot of problems is not knowing how to handle conflict/discord with employees and/or clients. Nobody likes conflict but leaders have to know how to handle it effectively and in a healthy manner. Conflict/discord can impact team production, cause tension in the workplace, and even stop persons from handling disagreements with their bosses. Without good communication, especially in difficult situations, the corporations’ productivity will go down, not to mention the morale of the employees.

It is important to mention here that conflict can be healthy. For example, for businesses to get ahead they need new ideas, things done differently. This will cause disagreement and possibly a few arguments but that can be good when handled correctly.

But I doubt you will find many, if any, persons who will say they love to be in conflict situations. Nobody likes dealing with discord. It is uncomfortable and emotionally draining. With that said, there are those out there who like to ‘stir things up.’ These people can wreak havoc wherever they are. Again, conflict in and of itself isn’t bad, in fact, it is needed in order to come up with new ideas. The ‘bad’ part comes with how we handle it.

Corporations and businesses of any size cannot operate efficiently without leaders who have the tools to handle conflict situations effectively and with compassion. As offices become more globalized and fast-paced, the pressure to deliver quality quickly increases, which increases the potential for conflict.

Because men and women differ in their approaches to conflict/discord, it is vital that we understand those differences in order to provide the appropriate training.

Learned behavioral patterns and entrenched assumptions pose higher hurdles for women than for men. Women as a whole tend to prefer avoidance strategies. They don’t want to be seen as aggressive or confrontational, presumably more male characteristics. Women tend to take conflict more personally than men. It seems that female and male coworkers expect women to be more empathetic towards the feelings of others and more supportive and nurturing, thus avoiding conflict rather than embracing it. Women are often seen as the peacemakers of their organizations. They become entrenched in other’s conflicts out of feelings of loyalty, sympathy or simply because colleagues come to them to offload their woes. Women are expected to be ‘nice,’ which is an expectation few men even consider. Such indirect but powerful pressure forces businesswomen to suppress their real and natural emotions which may include healthy feelings of frustration, anger and aggressiveness. So their true emotions go underground to try to keep up appearances of how they ‘should’ behave. (Women at Work: On Conflict, 11/06/2014, ET Updated, Jan 06, 2015).

In further comparing how men and women differ in handling conflict some research has shown that men tend to view conflict as a fight over territory, a chance to position themselves, push their ideas and an opportunity to brand themselves to the boss. For men, conflict may be a tactic, a way to test an opponent’s resolve. Women, however, often desire to mediate conflict, seeing it as hurtful to team members. Therefore they may feel the need to think of others’ feelings first, allowing their own wants and desires to take a backseat or be completely suppressed. This is an advantage that women instinctively have, understanding the other’s point of view. Successful business women are able to boldly enter into necessary conflicts - targeting things, not people - fully aware that this is one of the hallmarks of an effective leader.

There are basically five styles of conflict management: 1. Competition; 2. Accommodation; 3. Avoidance; 4. Compromise; 5. Collaboration. Competition is achieving goals at the expense of relationships: win/lose. Accommodation: giving up goals to preserve the relationship: win/lose. Avoidance: neither goals nor relationships can be preserved: lose/lose. Compromise: give a little, get a little: win/lose.

Collaboration: high concern to reach goals and build/preserve relationships: win/win.

Collaboration is the best way to resolve conflict, but as I have seen in the many groups I have worked wirth, it takes too long. Because collaboration means coming to a unanimous resolution. Believe it or not, this can happen, but it takes work and time.

Before you can effectively deal with a conflict, a good first step is to learn how to read the behaviors of your employers and employees. This helps not only deal with conflict but also in finding ways to prevent it. A great example is understanding what adult bullying can look like. Bullying behaviors include:

● deliberate insults;

● unsubstantial criticism;

● slandering or maligning a person or the person’s family;

● deliberately withholding information;

● supplying false information or spreading rumors;

● isolating;

● ostracizing;

● boycotting;

● dismissing or disregarding the person(s) involved;

● intimidation;

● persecution and threats of persecution;

● humiliation;

● criticism;

● sarcasm;

● raising the voice in an attempt to overpower the other;

● body language such as standing tall and crossing arms in an adversarial manner.

All of these behaviors can inevitably lead to conflict. There are other situations as well, but bullying of some kind can be found in most conflicts.

In my experience in dealing with group conflict as well as individual conflict the following tools are key in handling it effectively:

Non-anxious presence

● Keep a neutral stance and calm body language

● Do not go on the Defensive; no finger pointing

● Stick to the issues, do not get personal


● Remember everyone has an opinion, don’t close your mind

● What is their side of things?

● What solutions can you offer?

● Why are their solutions failing?

● How is your solution better?

● What results does your solution provide?

Deep listening

● Are you clear on their position?, If not get clarification

● Don’t stop until you understand what they are saying

● Use the tool: Let me recap so I can be sure I understand what you are saying

Powerful Questions

● Only ask questions that serve to enhance your understanding

● Ask questions that help them get clarity themselves

● Ask questions that enable them to see the other side/opinions

These tools will enable the leader to create an open environment, one where people know they will be listened to. Then depending on whether or not you are convinced by their arguments, you as the leader must stand firm in your truth and say it firmly yet with compassion.

In addition to the above tools, there are specific behaviors that work extremely well in handling conflict in a healthy manner. When you combine the tools and the following behaviors, you can be pretty confident that you will be able to handle any conflict that comes your way.

● Do not label or name-call

● Do not attack or question motives

● Propose positive changes: do not just offer negative complaints

● Speak specifically, not generally

● Consider and respect different perspectives; gather plenty of information

● Be open about differences

● Be responsible, for your own feelings

● Act accountable

● Work for win-win solutions

● Value everyone

● Be open to change and growth

● Stick with the process

● Take a break when things get too heated

● Admit mistakes

● When working with teams or groups who have a say in the decision, when decision is made, be sure to comply with it

These tools and behaviors are applicable to working with individuals and groups. Knowing the tools and behaviors to utilize is just one step. You have to understand how to incorporate them within yourself such that they become natural. This takes time and practice but it is absolutely worth it! I worked with a group that was severely divided, not trusting each other. You could cut the tension with a knife. It took time, a lot of listening and being able to pull all of the information together and begin to slowly implement steps to pull them back together. I loved watching them slowly come together and work with one another. There is a lot of reward when you are instrumental in bringing about that kind of change.

Next time conflict comes your way, don’t run away from it, but move towards it and make a difference!

For more info, follow me on LinkedIn!


Patricia K. Suggs, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Patricia Suggs, International Speaker, and International Best-selling Author, CEO of Patricia Suggs Business Consultant and Founder of PKS Publishing, is known for her ability to teach women how to find their voice, step into leadership, and excel at conflict resolution.

She helps professional women bypass the system and get promoted! Her new program is: ARISE: Reaching Your Next Level

She resides in Pfafftown, NC with her husband, 3 dogs, 1 rabbit and 4 ducks.



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