Workplace Conflict: Your Co-Worker Said WHAT?!


By Melissa Doman, M.A.

“If I didn’t need this job, I’d jump over my cubicle wall, tear off John’s arm, and beat him senseless with it.” 

Ah - workplace conflict - isn’t it just a peach? 

As a coach and consultant, I’ve lost count of how many clients I’ve had to walk through the productive conflict management process and why it’s the foundation of true change and growth. 

I can say with 100% certainty that you can think of at least 5 friends that are currently having an ongoing fight with a co-worker, a “winter-is-coming” level feud with their boss, or feel like their workplace is shoving them into a round hole when they’re a star-shaped peg.

How do I know this? 

It’s because workplace conflict is one of the top complaints people have about their professional lives. 

I’ve have an innumerable amount of stories of clients who have told me their head starts spinning around like Carrie because they feel angry, and yet, somewhat helpless. Like it or not, the workplace is and always will be a hodgepodge of different personalities and ways of getting things done. 

Make no mistake - your office is a sandbox - but for adults - and we don’t always play well together.

With that being said, odds are that you’ll probably encounter a few bristly folks or processes that rub you the wrong way, or bad apples who are too sour to handle. Instead of begrudging the unchangeable and inevitable, your self-preservation and personal growth will thank you when you learn how to healthfully cope with those situations, people, and more importantly - your reactions to them.

On the bright side, tinkering with how you deal with workplace conflict will improve your conflict management style overall. That seems like a win to me.

First, when dealing with workplace feuds - I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a look at what your contributions may be to those conflicts.

Yes, I’m talking about you, I see you over there!

Are you conflict avoidant or are you an instigator? Do you get easily defensive or are you a finger-pointer? Do your co-workers find you to be approachable or do they avoid you like the plague?

If you end up getting a negative answer to any of these questions - no need to get upset. Just turn that frown upside down and create a solution on how to improve on it. You, and those around you, will thank you for it.

Second, ask yourself, why is it that some people or workplace processes bother you so much?

Are you triggered by those people based on your own issues, or are they genuinely doing things that would make any person want to slam their head onto concrete? 

Both are valid questions. 

The reason I want you to ask yourself this question is this: is the annoyance a really a five-alarm fire or no biggie? Asking yourself this simple question allows you to keep your annoyance levels in perspective and helps you control the level you go to when you feel irked.

Third, if you haven’t addressed these conflicts with your co-workers, yet you sit silently stewing, why haven’t you deal with it? Or, if you’ve addressed it with them and it hasn’t worked, what could have been done differently?

Humans are creatures of habit and we avoid conflict like that awkward old friend at our high school reunion. 

If we do muster up the courage, we usually address conflict in the way that feels most comfortable. Or, we hope that by avoiding it, it will magically go away (yes, even as adults, we all possess a little bit of 6-year-old logic). So, when that doesn’t work, we may try the same things over and over again expecting a different result and just be frustrated when it doesn’t work. 

Use these types of situations to test your metal in how adaptable you can be.

Are you willing to try different ways to relate to people in ways they can understand? If you said yes, you’re in luck, many methods and avenues are at your disposal to help you ameliorate the issues at hand.

Lastly, did you know that managing workplace conflict is really key in maintaining good lifestyle balance? 

*Pause for effect*

We may not admit it, but when things get us angry at work, you better believe that stuff can bleed over into your personal life. 

The amount of stress that comes from ignored workplace conflict gets stored as psychological distress and physical tension. Those feelings need a place to escape, and unfortunately, I guarantee you it’ll come out at inopportune times and towards people you don’t intend it to.

So dear reader, with all of this being said, even though you can’t control the environment or who you work with, it’s your responsibility to manage your workplace conflict, how it affects you, and how you choose to deal with it. Keep in mind, these changes can’t happen overnight. Everything I just talked about it HARD, so be kind to yourself and allow for some time to tackle this. Remember, learning how to deal with and navigate the professional workplace is a skill that’s cultivated over a lifetime. Be patient with yourself, and, hopefully with others.