Ouch: Taking the Sting from Conflict at Work

conflict at work

Summary: Workplace conflict is a BIG problem that won’t go away. Most executives and entrepreneurs I coach first worry about $$$$ issues and then quickly think about their employees. Here are thoughts about what may keep you up at night and what to do differently.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I find that whether my company finally decides on remote, hybrid, or being in the office full-time, is less of an issue than how employees handle daily upsets and conflicts.

For example, let me tell you about Jill.

She has all the proper credentials. It does not get any better than Harvard MBA, so they say.

Super-achievers are stuck with the need to be right rather than happy.

However, Jill’s trap is she is stuck in the category of life titled “need to win.”  And her “winning way” is to defend, explain, and justify her position rather than ask questions and collaborate.

As a senior VP, Jill is a whiz at marketing and has contributed significantly to our organization. Yet people often dislike her. The word despise comes up on occasion.

She is attractive (is that a sexist thing to say), well-educated (as noted, a Harvard grad), and intelligent (glad this is gender-neutral).

However, when she disagrees, it becomes ugly and frustrating.

I cannot get her to see her role in conflicts. The other person is always “that A-hole.”

Super achievers work hard as positive role models by work colleagues.

I want you to know she never curses, and yet, everyone at some point (including me) ends up in the A-hole category.

I once played dumb and asked her exactly what the A in A-hole stands for, to hear her say the word “ass.”

She smiled, shrugged, and demurely said I should figure it out myself.

I can’t figure out the next steps. Her behavior around conflict is not working.

What tools and tips do you have to help me help her?


Needs Sleep

Leadership programs for everyone must include self-awareness training.

Dear Needs Sleep,

Whether it is sales, marketing, IT, or administrative support, the common denominator is how people get along to get the work done. Recent studies should keep you even more awake at night than you are.

I don’t want to upset you; I want you to know the high cost of unresolved conflict.

These studies indicate that regardless of the economy being up or down, “people stuff” sets companies apart from each other.

  1. A whopping 93% of workers report being “negatively affected by an inability to deal with conflict on the job.”
  2. Well over half, 69%, avoid confronting co-workers on accountability issues.
  3. Human resource professionals report having to intervene in conflict situations at least three times weekly.
  4. Over 30% of retail, food and leisure employees claim to experience hostility at work every day.
  5. Senior executives and business owners spend more than half their time resolving staff personality conflicts, double the time spent in the 1990s.
  6. Healthcare expenditures are 50% higher for workers who report high-stress levels, and conflict-ridden work environments create stress.

Are you feeling like you are carrying a significant burden on your back? Well, guess what?

The impact of conflict at work can be a deal breaker for most organizations.

Conflict, as opposed to collaboration, is expensive and takes the fun out of any creative work.

Creativity could and should be fun. It is a fast and furious frenzy of creative energy.

Collaboration is the goal. Now, how to get there.

Take a deep breath and keep reading—first, more bad news.

To get a complete sense of the financial hemorrhaging at most companies, you need to factor in other big-ticket items such as lawsuits and the cost of employee turnover (estimated at 30% to 150 % of an employee’s salary).

An untold loss due to a distracted and stressed workforce shows reduced productivity and passive-aggressive absenteeism.

Leadership training for everyone brings passive-aggressive behavior to the surface.

Ug, passive-aggressive absenteeism? That is when someone calls in sick (not!), so they don’t have to face someone (maybe Jill?). Or they call in sick to prove the work cannot get done without them.

Hang in there; we are almost done.

Here is one more study by the American Management Association. Employees spend about 25% of their time, or two hours a day, partaking in unproductive workplace disputes with colleagues.

Leadership training programs that include emotional intelligence training are robust.

Now for some new ideas about conflict at work.

You ask, “Why do tensions get so high at work?”

That is a good beginning question.

Conflict runs rampant in the workplace because of our natural and universal tendency to bring our families with us to work.

“Yikes,” you say, “that is impossible. I dropped the kids at school; my wife works on the other side of town. So, what are you talking about?”

Workplace flare-ups go deep; if we look, we can track them back to patterned behavior we learned as kids in our original organization, the family.

We bring these patterns with us into our present work organizations. I wish it were not that way; however, that is how it is.

Gravity and family patterns are similar once you understand how they work.

Think about gravity. We must learn to appreciate that it keeps our feet down on the planet. Better to walk upright rather than float around all day.

And thanks to gravity, if a ball is thrown high, it will fall to earth. It will bop us on the head if we stand in its trajectory.

Here is what we know about workplace conflict: professional relationships can fill with emotional tensions like home relationships.

We strive to be wise, philosophical, and mature in our professional dealings. Much of the time, we are.

And then, that guy over there sets your teeth on edge because it reminds you of how your older brother used to mock you.

Perhaps someone made a mess in the community kitchen.

Suddenly you are mad, frustrated, upset, and unsure why. You get angry when you find yourself cleaning up again, just as you always used to when your mother never cleaned up after dinner.

This reality plays out repeatedly everywhere on the planet. It is the underbelly of what much of the workplace statistics concerning conflict are ultimately about.

Okay, okay, you say, I got it. The big question is what I do about it.

Okay, okay, help is here!!!!!

The conflict profile quiz tells where you are stuck.

Take this conflict profile quiz. Come on; it will only take a few minutes.

Next steps. Have your leadership team take the quiz and set up a time to discuss conflict and how to transform it into collaboration.

Even better, I suggest you give us a call. We have been helping companies escape the rut of upset for decades. We now do Zoom calls with groups of up to 30 for 90 minutes to look at the core issues. It has helped many.

In any case, do something to begin the dialogue with your team.

Here’s to your success,


P.S. There are many issues brewing this last quarter of the year: inflation, elections, climate change, and holidays. Now is the time to look conflict in the face. Go to www.ceoptions.com and sign up for a free copy of chapter one of the Amazon best seller “Invisible Stress: It’s NOT What YOU Think.”

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options