CONFLICT RESOLUTION AT THE OFFICE – Does familiarity really breed contempt?

“I do not like that man, I must get to know him better”

Abraham Lincoln (attributed)


Serious disagreement and disaffection between colleagues in the workplace is a huge drain on businesses which can ill afford distractions. Strife and the stress and unhappiness that come with it can affect productivity, cause absenteeism and increase staff turnover – aka damage!
While human behaviour is complex, most particularly when under stress, the same trends and themes are often repeated. An understanding of what is really going on and the dynamics involved is half the battle when seeking to neutralise and resolve conflict. By upping their Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skill set, managers can become more proficient at spotting the early warning signals, and are far better placed to anticipate and then influence what happens next.





We often draw conclusions about people within moments of meeting them, or even just seeing them across the office – this is the ‘first impression’ trap. Once in place such preconceptions can condition our views of what others do and say from then on. We should therefore take time to find out more about those around us, or at least be aware of not forming our opinions before we have had the chance to do so in an informed manner.



Do we ever get the wrong end of the stick? Of course we do. The best way of avoiding this is, of course, communication – there is no better antidote to adjusting a negative impression of someone than simply taking the trouble to fill in the blanks.



Often these are born of ignorance and misunderstanding but also the baggage people take to work can have a huge effect as exterior problems may spill over at the office. This is not excusing ill manners or bad behaviour but if we begin to understand the causes of someone’s behaviour it could at least change our reactions for the better.



This is about our territory, and our desire to protect what we have or what we should like to have. If we feel threatened we are unlikely to be at our most reasonable or generous, and in such a frame of mind there are short steps between viewing a colleague as a rival, a threat, and even perceived as an enemy. Once this point is reached it is hardly surprising that relations can deteriorate very badly.



This is always a good trip wire to tell us we are not confident about a particular issue. Therefore, when we are on our guard we are alerted to anything we interpret as challenging or threatening in nature – and with our shields up we have difficulty telling them apart which can then lead to the next issue.



A form of social myopia obscuring a wider picture can develop, as we do not want to be seen to be giving ground. Our opinions become beliefs and therefore part of us so it can be very easy to slip into taking challenges very personally. So often when we ‘believe’ something it becomes regarded by us as the ‘truth’. Our conditioned sense of justice is ingrained in us to defend what we believe to be the truth, to be right. Of course there are very clear-cut instances of right and wrong, truth & falsehood; in human relations, however, things are rarely so straightforward.


Understanding the nature and origins of conflict gets us well on the way to preventing them from escalating or even occurring in the first place. The most important thing, as in the quote attributed to Lincoln, we have to be bothered to look behind the façade in order to drastically improve the chances of conflict resolution.



As a coach I have to be able to listen – this may sound all very obvious, right? But there’s listening and then there’s ACTIVE listening. This is a skill that is not only fundamental for any coach, but it is also an essential skill for any meaningful interaction be it in our lives at work, with our friends or at home.

According to the International Coaching Federation’s core competencies, active listening is:

“The ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying,

to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires

and to support client self expression.”


As a member of the ICF, this skill is not only a core competency (the fundamental skills of life coaching) but is practically an article of faith emphasized in all our training and our CPD going forward.




Being Present

I become fully present and ‘in the moment’ with whoever I’m in discussion with – to the exclusion of all else. This is irrespective of whether we are having a discussion in a consultation room, or in a bustling hotel foyer


Get ALL the information

Active Listening distinguishes and ‘reads’ on just the words, but also the emotions, the tone of voice and the body language. All of these inform the flow of information and the quality of our work together


The agenda is yours!

It ensures the agenda is being set by you – by adhering to what I am hearing, seeing and sensing  you are not going to be fit into any pre-prepared behavioural models. What you say will dictate and direct what happens next and where our journey takes us.


Follow what’s being said

It prevents the mind from running ahead of what is actually being said. If we do that, then we’re not listening properly and focusing on the present discussion. Instead we are over thinking and analysing to the detriment of the discussion.


Clarity for both of us

‘AL’ develops understanding and gets to the heart of the main issues in a way that produces remarkable trust and clarity in areas which may have been obscured in the past.


What people are REALLY thinking

This may not come immediately. Openess and candour can give vital and valuable information – what people have to say is the clay with which we have to work.


It is as important to understand a person’s strengths and potential for greatness as well as observing their challenges and vulnerabilities – the whole picture has to inform the discussion and, of course, the conclusions.



Mindfulness practice, both formal and informal, makes all of the above that much more natural and easily available. The ability to maintain a high state of awareness in the moment, and without judgement, helps to take the skill of Active Listening to another level – but that’s a whole new topic….


I maintain that people already have everything they need to make positive, lasting change for the better in their lives. If proper attention and awareness is paid to what is being said – this will provide us both with all the raw material we need on which to build a rewarding and successful coaching relationship.