5 Ways To Approach Office Conflict

When you add up the hours you spend in such close proximity to your co-workers it can only be expected that there will be the odd clash. Having a mixed bag of personalities shoved into an office for eight or so hours a day with the expectation of harmoniously working together is quite naïve really!

Much like your family, you don’t get to pick your co-workers but unfortunately their calls are not ones you can simply ignore. Trying to work together effectively is an expectation and one you should readily take on. So when those disagreements and arguments arise, here are 5 ways to approach office conflict.


1) Keep things professional

By early adulthood, you probably already know that not everyone is going to be your friend. You might also know that some personalities are going to clash with your own. Some will unsettle you, unnerve you, distress you, make you increasingly angry, or vulnerable or all of the above. Try not to waste your energy by taking on board the negativity being projected by others. Be confident in your efforts and always work honestly and openly. Polar personalities will rarely find common ground but keeping things in a professional place will only work to your favor. Be mindful of your body language, your facial expressions, and how those around you might perceive you.

Do your job to the best of your capabilities and avoid getting caught up in office politics. Being first in line to hear the water-cooler gossip is never going to win you a place at the leadership table. Leave the schoolyard nattering where it belongs and concentrate on doing your job.

2) Approach with empathy

To the naked eye, we may all look like well functioning professionals churning out another 8-hours whilst sitting in the office sipping from our takeout coffee. No two people see things through exactly the same eyes and everyone deals with stress differently. There is no way of knowing how people interpret specific situations, who is affected by what and to what degree that stress impacts him or her – stress that might be the cause of the work conflict. So take a step back and appreciate the vast and varying nature of those around you. An empathetic approach, understanding your colleagues and what is behind the conflict might help you resolve the situation.

3. Avoid email

So much of our tone and intention can be lost when we quickly bang out a response over email. If there is an undercurrent to a work situation and a conflict brewing, the back and forth of email tends to only add fuel to the flame. Arrange to sit down and talk it out sooner rather than later. Do so one on one if possible, as getting others involved unnecessarily can make the issue seem bigger than it is.

4. Align your objectives

One can hope that a mutual objective can be derived from any work conflict. No one wants his or her life at work to be more unpleasant so, at the bare minimum, avoiding unpleasantness can be a common ground for which to strive. Communicate willingly to try to ascertain your ideal outcome and what you can both do to achieve this. Working toward the same objective for the same goal or even in the same direction may help to quell existing tension.

5. Don’t be afraid to socialise

The last thing you probably want to do is socialize with the person who is making your life hell in the office! But humanizing your demons is a therapy like no other. Suck it up and have a five minute chat at the Friday night office drinks. Ask them about something mundane. Something inoffensive. It’s not about being the bigger, better person (although that does often feel pretty good), it’s about not letting the conflict be all that there is to you.

No office is without its resident trouble. Someone who is seemingly there to stir the pot and not much else. You are only human and (provided you’re not the asshat) getting heated over things you’re passionate about is fairly commonplace. Some might even say valuable in the context of work as it implies fighting for what you do. Your efforts will be wasted trying to control office conflicts: controlling your approach, however, will give you the upper hand.

Sueanne Parker

Writer, Production specialist, Creative enthusiast.

3 min read

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