How to handle conflict in the workplace

I am, by no means, the best person to give advice about handling confrontations and conflict. I don’t like conflict. I avoid confrontations if at all possible. Having to confront someone makes me feel ill. I imagine how horrible the confrontation will go. I envision how flustered I will become.

Despite those things, confrontation sometimes is necessary. I have to choose the difficult task and bring my concern to the person involved in the situation. I have to accept I will become flustered. I have to prepare for that predicament as best I can, usually by outlining what I will say and by ensuring that my concern is relevant and needs to be addressed.

The question, of course, is how to address that person. I use a four-tiered approach when it comes to confrontation; I do not avail myself of the third or fourth tiers unless I must. I begin at the first level. If resolution does not occur at that level, I move onto the next one.

Level One: Private

With the first tier, I bring the concern to the person directly involved. I do not mention the situation to anyone else no matter how tempting it is to complain to a co-worker or friend. I keep the situation private. Small concerns have a way of growing to monstrous proportions when an ill-advised word is shared with the wrong person or at the wrong time.

Level Two: Semi-Private

If I can’t resolve the conflict on my own, I involve someone who has the same concern or is involved in the situation in some way. I ask that person to join me and the person with whom I have a conflict. The two of us try to work with the other person to arrive at a resolution.

Level Three: Semi-Public

If I can’t find resolution at level two, I involve someone else, preferably a manager or some sort of third-party who has little affiliation with either me or the person involved. The third party is given both sides of the story and is requested to act as mediator. The mediator then gives us both action items so that we can resolve our conflict.

Level Four: Public

If mediation doesn’t work, it’s time to go public. I don’t mean “public” in the sense that I share my grievance with everyone. I mean that I move forward, which could mean I stop interacting with the person. It could mean I move to a different department or, in the worst case scenario, seek employment elsewhere. Such actions depend upon the extent of the concern or situation.

How do you handle conflict in the workplace?

Erin Feldman
Erin Feldman is the founder of Write Right. She is a copywriter and editor. She helps people tell their stories.
  • Kimmo

    Thanks for the great insight. When you are in the situation you forget what steps are appropriate.

    • Erin Feldman

      I think it takes practice, but it’s something you hope not to have to practice too often. I think some conflicts can be avoided by being upfront at the outset of any sort of relationship, be it personal or professional.

  • socialmediadds

    What a great post Erin…a thoughtful approach to a difficult and often uncomfortable situation!

  • Barrett Rossie

    Love the way you laid this out. It’s the way to handle things when you’re a grown up. You could probably do an interesting post: How NOT To Handle Conflict – Go Public, Attack Personally, Ignore, etc.