46. Can’t We All Just Get Along? Managing Conflict, Disagreements, and Differences at Work.

When we are able to manage conflict, we are also able to nurture our relationships, collectively solve problems, learn from each other and minimize our burdens. While conflict can lead to positive outcomes, it’s a rare individual who nails it every time. 


Differences, disagreements and conflicts-these definitely get in the way of joy, meaning and ease at work. Our laser-focused (HA!) co-hosts, Cfrin and Kirsten are out to share insights into this topic from another fabulous, listener focus group.

Many thanks to our listener focus group.  Crina and Kirsten appreciate so much the input of listeners into our show topics.  It is one of the best parts of producing the podcast.

There are lots of differences in the workplace – generational, personality type (outgoing, quiet, shy etc), approach to solving a problem, risk tolerance, education, experience, religion and of course political beliefs.

Our focus group shares that they most worry about conflict resulting from aggressive communication style (such as a brusque or abrupt style), unclear expectations around policies, boundaries, what can and can’t be shared in terms of opinions, emotions and perspectives.

Conflict creates a battle between our reason and our emotion.  And feelings (disappointment, loss, grief, betrayal etc.) often fuel our conflicts. When relationships in the workplace are characterized by cooperation, trust, and fairness, the reward center of the brain is activated which encourages future interactions that promote employee trust, respect, and confidence, with employees believing the best in each other and inspiring each other in their performance (Geue, 2017). The Importance of Positive Relationships in the Workplace

When we become angry, the amygdala, part of the limbic system in our brain, is flooded with hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone and we become “high” on conflict. If we’re shown acknowledgment and feel that we’re heard, the front or neocortex part of the brain, which is responsible for higher thinking and reasoning, is flooded with serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. These are hormones that are released when we experience trust and respect.

Our listener focus group talked about times they felt they had handled conflict particular well or poorly.  One listener said that when she does not handle conflict well, she shuts down and it robs her of her joy at work and makes her less effective.

Another listener said that she feels she handles conflicts poorly when she is not empathic with the other person and fails to fully consider their position.  Another reported that one of her successes was her ability to flex her communication style with a co-worker to diffuse the conflict.  Note – it is possible that instead of her co-worker’s brain flooding with adrenaline and cortisol, it flooded with serotonin and dopamine! 

What are the strategies we use in conflict?

Understanding the science of conflict

The TKI conflict styles
  • Avoiding involves withdrawing from the situation in order to avoid conflict at all costs. This could mean leaving the solution to the passage of time or fate.
  • Smoothing involves sweeping the disagreement “under the rug” and pretending that everything is pleasant, serene, and cooperative.
  • Compromising involves each party getting something and giving up something.
  • Battling involves fighting in a way that produces a clear winner and loser.
  • Problem solving involves both parties first confronting the disagreement and then resolving it through collaboration.

All of these strategies can be good – and we should probably be using all of them depending on the situation.

In the context of all of these strategies – make an effort to find out the needs, concerns, be curious, and fears behind the other party’s position. Always be on the lookout for some of those bedrock needs that drive most people, such as security, economic well-being, a feeling of belonging, status, recognition, being regarded by others as being highly competent, and possessing power and control.

Our focus group had some great suggestions.

  •  “Don’t catch the football” – let the ball drop
  • Be rich not right – what do you want more – to do a great job or be right
  • Focus on the facts
  • Focus on the here and now
  • HAND CLAP – what is right between your hands to address right now:
  • Lean back and breathe
  • Consider where you will get the most traction
  • Practice empathy, 
  • Educate herself about the viewpoints of others 
  • Understanding the root of the conflict and/or their ideas
  • Do not compromise yourself
  • Find the PAIN POINT – and gentle ways to work through that
  • Look for intentions
  • Ask questions 
  • Challenge your  assumptions
  • Establish agreements and policies and procedures on the front end

At the end of it – we are humans and the root of conflict allows us to find our common humanity.