6 Ways Conflict Can Actually Strengthen Your Work Relationships

Are you the type of person who relishes tackling conflicts head-on? Or would you rather duck your head and wish everyone could just get along?

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable, but they can strengthen work relationships. Around 85% of leaders and individual contributors report some type of conflict at work.

When these issues are left unresolved, they can leave stifling tension and damaged relationships, not to mention decreased productivity.

We tend to automatically associate the word “conflict” with negativity, but with the right mindset, conflicts can be prime opportunities for personal growth, collaboration, learning, and understanding.

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The most common types of conflict in the workplace

Conflict appears in various forms. In some instances, it is a case of miscommunication or clashing work styles. These can usually be addressed in a healthy manner.

Some forms of conflict, however, stem from toxic personalities or hateful beliefs that can’t be easily remedied. Therefore, it’s important to take a step back, identify the cause of a conflict, and decide how to proceed.

The most common conflicts are caused by:

  • Interdependence: A conflict that occurs when teamwork is required. One person must rely on another employee’s output, input, or cooperation to complete their task. Somewhere along the process, there’s a breakdown preventing Person #2 from continuing until Person #1 fulfills their duty.
  • Style Differences: A clash of style preferences causing friction. For example, one employee may be data-driven while another is people-oriented. If the people person wants to take the time to survey other teammates and weigh everyone’s feedback while the data worker simply wants to complete the task as quickly as possible, their style differences are causing conflict.
  • Discrimination: An issue caused by differences in age, race, gender, political affiliations, religious beliefs, educational backgrounds, etc. 
  • Leadership style differences: A disruption that occurs when employees are overseen by various leaders who have inconsistent management styles and expectations.
  • Clashing personalities: One of the most common conflicts stems from emotions and perceptions about colleagues, as well as personal egos.
  • Poor communication: A lack of understanding about a task, role, or crucial information needed to complete a job.

5 levels of conflict


How to strengthen work relationships with conflict resolution

While the nature of conflict is unpredictable, the inevitability of it is not. There is simply no escaping it.

You have control over your reaction to conflict, whether you are the assertive type who is ready to jump in and fight or the passive type who prefers avoiding any form of direct confrontation.

Your response can have a drastic effect on everything from the overall success of a project to the way your colleagues perceive you.

We’ve compiled a list of healthy communication and coping strategies to help work through most conflict scenarios and maintain strong work relationships whenever possible.

1. Improve your active listening skills

Translation: listen to the other person’s perspective, even if you have already made up your mind. You may not agree with the opposing point of view, but people appreciate being heard, respected, and validated. Open communication on both ends helps to break down barriers and prevent future conflicts. And who knows, you might learn new information that changes your perspective.

2. Become more empathetic

Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is one of the most basic and critical elements of healthy conflict resolution. Connecting on a human, emotional level from a place of understanding is the best way to see someone else’s perspective and work with them to find a solution.

3. Don’t make it personal

That might be hard if tensions escalate and someone is calling you names or insulting your mother, but reciprocating a personal attack is only going to make your adversary even more defensive. Take a breath. Walk away if you need to. But keep the conversation professional. Likewise, try not to take nasty remarks personally. Workplace conflicts should not be taken home to invade your personal life and keep you up at night.

4. Find a middle-ground solution

It is possible that you and a colleague will not agree regardless of how long you debate. But chances are, you have a common goal since you both want to see the job get done. See if you can find a compromise and meet on the middle ground to make it happen. Even if you’re both partially dissatisfied, you can still move forward and complete your task with the peace of mind that you were able to work through the conflict and nobody “won.”

5. Choose your battles

Unless you are the boss with supreme authority, you likely won’t get your way 100% of the time. There may be situations when the best course of action is to yield as long as it doesn’t have a negative impact on the outcome. Think of it as a gesture of goodwill toward the coworker you disagreed with. Small steps like this can go a long way to strengthening workplace bonds. Give a little now and have some leverage later, effectively positioning yourself for success with future conflicts.

6. Avoid toxicity

Sometimes, there is no getting around it. Toxic coworkers are going to instigate conflicts and escalate them at every opportunity. If that is the case, your best bet is to reduce your contact with the individual as much as possible. Remove yourself from the drama equation. If that isn’t possible in the workplace, it might be time for a change of scenery. The 2020 Emtrain Culture Report found that almost 30% of employees have left an organization due to workplace conflict. It’s not an easy choice, but you deserve to be healthy and happy.


What we can learn from conflict in the workplace

Every situation and conflict will be different. How we respond to those conflicts not only affects our satisfaction at work and effectiveness at getting the job done but also the way we deal with people and problems in our everyday lives.

Communication, empathy, active listening, compromise, and the ability to roll with the punches are key components of workplace conflict resolution that we can use to strengthen our professional relationships.

These same methods and lessons can translate to conflict resolutions in our personal lives as well.


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