Thursday, 20 January 2011

Strategies to Handle Difficult Conflicts (Bully Free At Work)

Strategies to Handle Difficult Conflicts

Dear Andy,

Not all conflicts can be resolved. However, would you like to know some tips to help you resolve more conflicts that might border on bullying but are more 'difficult' as opposed to actual bullying in the workplace? Here they are:

1. Avoidance

A refusal to engage or solve.
Most prevalent.

A very obvious verbal attack occurs, and the target, due to fear, simply walks away (but they wished they could have 'done something').

While this obviously is not a good way of dealing with difficult situations or bullying, it is worth being considered as a strategy for when the conflict is 'just not worth the effort' of being addressed. It is also worth it to walk away when the power balance between individuals is not even and saying something might make things worse.

2. Accommodation

Taking the conflict and submitting.
Going along with the conflict by seeing it as more advantageous to support the other person at this time.

Listening to unhelpful criticism and believing it.

Very frequently used, especially where there is low confidence and self-esteem. This is another poor method of dealing with difficult conflicts at work, but it may do if you know that there is a solution coming soon, or you believe submitting may get you further.

3. Compete

You push hard to get your own way in the conflict, without regard for the other's needs.


You are very upset with someone, and when they try to explain their situation, you cut them off and over-explain your point in order to gain control.

This can be very useful when the conflict is mild and you are passionate about your stance, but can lead to a vicious circle as the conflict escalates.

4. Compromise

This is more win-win, and requires the goodwill of both parties. You don't give in to the conflict, but rather work out a solution somewhere between the two sides.


One person wants to order a type of food and the other person wants another type of food. Both compromise and order something totally different.

This can lead to the downfall of the actual solution leaving none of the sides happy. Sometimes no one wins.

5. Collaborate

The most useful tactic, particularly with extreme conflict and workplace bullying. The aim here is to focus on working together to arrive at a solution, where both sides have ownership of and commitment to the solution.

Example 1:

You and someone else are at completely opposed viewpoints over a project. You sit down and work out why they believe in their point of view, and explain your own. Clever and lateral thinking can provide a solution, which answers both sides, but is not a compromise.

Example 2:

Someone is being difficult at work. You talk to this person using the strategies below and collaborate on modifying their behavior.

Use this strategy when the goal is to meet as many of the current needs as is possible. This can be the most difficult strategy if confidence is low, as it involves naming the issue to the conflict-creator, which can cause anxiety and fear.

To collaborate successfully on an issue such as continuing conflict you need to follow a few basic guidelines:

You must recognize that (maybe) part of the problem is your own fault: you allowed it to happen and did not try to address it to begin with. You can state this aloud and actively take part of the responsibility, as this will put the onus onto the other person to take the other part of the responsibility.
Remember that we frequently don't like in others what we don't want to see in ourselves, but occasionally find anyway. Be very sure that you have not committed the same conflict/offense.
Manage yourself during the resolution attempt - learn calming strategies if you are hot-tempered, or confidence boosters if you are shy. Try not to be emotional, as emotion will only make things escalate, and put a further wedge between parties. It is your responsibility to manage yourself; anything less, we are putting our unnecessary 'stuff' on the other.
Maintain eye contact and use your body language to convey your belief in what you are saying. Don't fiddle with something nervously, don't cross your arms protectively, and don't put yourself on a lower level than the other person (such as sitting on a lower chair). Our body language shows our heart. Is your heart showing the desire to collaborate?
Don't believe that the best defense is a good offense - that is part of the competing strategy. Comebacks and not acknowledging another's point of view are also part of competing: listen to the other side as they have just as much of a right to share as you do. Seek first to understand.
Work the issue, not the person: this means addressing the behavior rather than the entire existence of that person. There is a different level of ownership for behaviors, and people will take less offence if you address their behavior than if you criticize them personally. Never lay blame, as this will only fan the fires. Check your heart: can you separate the person from the performance?
If you are not getting anywhere, ask for further information from the other person about the reasons for their behavior, but don't ask the questions with 'why' at the beginning - if you do, this will actively put the other person under the spotlight and they will get defensive.
PS: If you sincerely feel you cannot resolve a conflict due to being very emotionally upset, then own this fact and ask for forgiveness of not being able to resolve the conflict at the moment. These are your emotions and they must be owned by you. Again, separate the person from the situation. This allows us to have hope in moving through difficult situations.

Above all, remember that people who enjoy creating conflict are ultimately power-seekers who enjoy controlling others. Frequently this is because either they have suffered in a similar way before, or feel that they have very little control over their own lives and they do anything they can to feel in control. A little compassion will take you a long way both in resolving the situation and in putting it behind you when it is resolved. After all, what is the alternative? It's time for extending the olive branch...but be careful it doesn't get burned off!

Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

You have permission to use the above article in your newsletter, publication or email system. We ask you not to edit the content and that you leave the links and resource box intact. © Bully Free at Work. All rights reserved.

Bully Free At Work - Head Office
Suite 356, 1500 - 14 Street NW
Calgary, Alberta
T3C 1C9


Glaucus said...

Category 6.

Intervention by a Third Party. (e.g. The Police)

Nursing Issues said...

Workplace bullying affects not only the person that is being bullied, but the whole team. It leads to lose of self-esteem, distractions, lose of sense of purpose and leads to staff leaving.
As a person that has been bullied, its not a nice feeling.
Nursing Issues.

Glaucus said...

Category 8 is Prevarication

Category 9 is Procrastination