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Dealing with Conflict at Work

What doesn't work and what can dismantle the tension.

Facing down a colleague doesn't work.
Facing down a colleague doesn't work.

Not getting along with a colleague? Is there conflict about most things? Do you dislike the negative tone when they talk to you or others?

Pointing fingers or blaming never works. It just raises the frustration level.

If you really want to ease the tension and build a productive relationship, you should present your concerns in a way they will hear you. You need to prepare for the conversation with these tips:

  1. Decide what is bothering you. One thing at a time. Don’t produce a long list of issues. Prioritize the one thing that is preventing you from getting the work done.
  2. Jot down the specific instances when this has happened. One or two will do. Again, not a long list.
  3. Ask that they meet with you. Choose a neutral but private space. Use three simple sentences to get the conversation started using the WHEN, I FEEL, SO MAYBE format.
  4. Make sure you are not using emotionally charged or judgement words like “I hate”, “mean spirited”, “stupid”.
  5. Forget the YOU word. YOU is pointing a finger – blaming. And a conversation stopper.

Here is an example of how you use the WHEN, I FEEL, SO MAYBE format to dismantle tension.


Thanks Michelle for agreeing to talk with me. I would like to clear some air between us regarding our work together. WHEN there is tension and harsh disagreement between you and me, I FEEL frustrated because I can’t be productive. SO MAYBE we can work through questions about ideas without raised tone of voice. That way we can find common ground and solve the issue together. What do you think?

Michelle is likely to deny the behavior you pointed out. That is when you use a specific incident to explain further.

Do you remember last week when the team was trying to figure out a system to get the customer concerns solved more quickly? I brought up the idea that we might have the one person who first listens and understands the customer’s concern be the one solving it rather than passing it to someone else. That way there would not be a time gap or misunderstanding in resolving the concern. Your response was quick and loud, ‘That will never work! We’ve tried that before!’. That response shut down the conversation.

The WHEN, I FEEL, SO MAYBE format of conversation may not work the first time.  Apply to any conversation like this:

WHEN                   describe the behavior that happens,

I FEEL                     tell how it makes you feel.

SO MAYBE           suggest another way that he/she can get what is needed for you to improve how you react.  This is the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) part of the conversation.  There has to be a reason that benefits the other person to change.


Remember the goal is to dismantle the conflict so you can work together productively. 



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