Advice for happier workplaces.

With so many different people in one place, conflict in the workplace is inevitable. However, office conflict doesn’t have to be uncomfortable and can even be a team building tool when resolved appropriately. Here are some easy to follow tips for dealing with co-worker conflict:

Start Within

Evaluate your relationship with your co-worker to try to find out what went wrong. Perhaps you said something in a playful manner that they took offensively, they didn’t help you with a project when they said they would, they remind you of someone you don’t like, etc. Try to be objective when doing this to ensure you are seeing both sides of the issue. While this part may seem the most obvious, it is also the most important. If you don’t understand what the problem is, you can’t fix it.

Schedule a Meeting

Once you’ve figured out what the issue is, try to schedule an in-person meeting with them to work through your issues. Regardless of who created the issue, it’s imperative that you work to find a way to communicate with them in a calm manner. Make sure you are being professional while still expressing how their actions affected you or acknowledging how your actions may have made them feel.

When done open and honestly, this should help you both deal with and move past any current issues. Try to not take things too offensively, and instead use this information to grow as a person. Oftentimes we don’t know how we are perceived by others, and while hearing negative things may be quite shocking, it is beneficial to learn from constructive criticism.

If they are not willing to meet you in person, a phone call or Skype session would also work. It is not advisable to send emails as they can be perceived differently than your intended tone.

Make a Conscious Change

Whether the person you are having conflict with wants to interact with you or not, you can still show them that you are serious about improving your behaviour towards them. Communicate with them in a way that shows you appreciate them and their work. This will go a long way in improving your relationship with this person, as well as all other co-workers, even if you don’t feel you have any issues with them. It is also a good idea to avoid office gossip at all times in order to keep your work relationships professional.

Seek Help if Needed

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and there is still an issue with your co-worker, it may be best to approach your human resources department for mediation. Mediation is a process in which a mediator acts as a third party to help facilitate an agreement. In the case of workplace conflict, the mediator would first introduce themselves and go over the rules of mediation (no interrupting, no name calling, etc.). Then, all parties will decide on who explains their side of the problem first. To be effective, the other participant should listen intently and show that they are listening. Then the roles switch. The mediator will then help the
parties to determine what the true problem is, and help them find ways to deal with it. The parties then create a written agreement and pledge to follow the agreed upon method for dealing with the problem.

I remember a few years ago I helped mediate a conflict between two newer colleagues who had come to dislike each other in the short time they had been there. At first, we encouraged them to try to work on the problems on their own, but it wasn’t possible for them, so we offered mediation. Both hesitantly agreed and a private meeting was scheduled. At the beginning of the mediation, they were both tense and uneasy. Once we explained the protocol of a mediation and the women each expressed their frustrations, they were able to come to an agreement fairly quickly. During the mediation exercise, the women even found out that they actually had quite similar in personalities! Soon after, I saw them chatting in the hallway and laughing. While mediation was the best option in this case, HR agreed that we shouldn’t have waited so long to address it. After a few days of cooling off period, the quicker a problem is addressed, the less likely it can
escalate into something harboured.


Dealing with co-worker conflict is never easy, but when done properly it can enhance your relationship with that person, as well as the overall energy of the office. Though previous eras have always tried to take emotion out of business, social-emotional intelligence will always play a part in work environments because humans are emotional by nature. Instead of ignoring or pushing away emotions at work, be aware of people’s differences and learn how to best work with coworkers.

Tags: Co-worker relations, Conflict, mediation, Work, work relationships, workplace

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