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5 Questions to Ask When Facing Conflict in the Workplace

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

We have all experienced conflict and know that it’s a natural part of the human experience. When we avoid confronting and resolving it, conflict can be uncomfortable, disruptive, and even destructive to relationships and opportunities. Conflict can lead to "quiet quitting", toxic work environments, burnout, and high attrition rates in the workplace. However, when differences are openly acknowledged and addressed, conflict can be a powerful source of insight, energy, and solutions that can ultimately strengthen relationships and lead to greater success.

We all have different combinations of desires, values, beliefs, and strengths, and conflict is always a risk in diverse groups or teams. But a diverse group is often what we strive for when assembling and developing high-performance teams because diversity enables us to approach problems from fresh angles, to consider the needs of customers and other business partnerships from many points of view, and to grow from learning from each other.

With that in mind, here are some questions to ask before you attempt the often game-changing conversation to face a conflict you are ready to resolve at work...

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Conflict

1. How can I listen with respect, compassion, and an open mind?

Take a step back, observe yourself, and decide if you are approaching the other person with the kind of respect, compassion, and openness you seek from them. If you feel like you have been coming from a less-than-ideal energy level, explore how you can improve your energy level, increase your general well-being and lower your stress levels before entering into any conversations about the conflict.

2. How am I responsible for creating conflict and how am I willing to change?

Self-awareness and self-responsibility can help to solve the root causes of a conflict more directly rather than slowly chipping away at symptoms and case-by-case intolerable instances and allowing discord to prevail underneath the surface. More often than not, there is something you can change - internally or externally - that would make a positive shift.

3. How can I value the other person's strengths and perspectives?

Try to focus on how this person really shines on your team and how you can encourage them to leverage their strengths and uniqueness. If you have trouble with this, it could be because the negative impact of the conflict has overshadowed the positive contributions and capabilities that the other party brings to the table. Try to see beyond the conflict and recognize the value of their unique skills, perspectives, and strengths.

4. What quick wins can I offer without compromising my values and goals?

If can you determine a way to help the other person benefit quickly in the situation at hand and ease a little tension, particularly if you can show your appreciation or gratitude for what they contribute, it can open the door to more communication and a better resolution. This type of support for the other person’s goals and needs can be a building block for a mutually beneficial relationship that creates growth for each other. The only caveat is to not compromise your own growth or well-being in the process.

5. What am I not willing to compromise in resolving the conflict?

We all have certain desires, values, and goals that, when put on the back burner for someone else’s needs, will create resentment and anger that can build in extremely harmful and disruptive ways. Do not ignore these desires that your inner voice or gut tells you are non-negotiable. While it’s not ideal to stay in conflict, it is even worse to give up on what we want over a long period of time. When it gets to that point, and you see no end in sight, it may be time to consider how you can both let go of whatever is requiring you to work together.

Each one of us gives our time – a piece of our lives – to whatever we are working on each day at work, regardless of the outcome. The next time you find yourself hesitant to face conflict at work, you can use these questions as a starting point to help you resolve it, grow from it, and contribute your time towards more meaningful work.

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Andrea MacKenzie, Founder of Lead With Harmony, is an MBA, multi-certified coach, Kolbe-Certified consultant, and leadership and team-building expert with over 20 years of combined experience in corporate roles and business consulting. Andrea enjoys working with growth-oriented business owners and executives who advocate for the advancement and well-being of the people they serve, hire, and inspire.

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