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Three tips for navigating co-worker conflict

Last Modified: October 16, 2023

Healthy Mind


This post was written by Ellen Schlatter, MS, LMHC, specialist, Parkview Employee Assistance.

If you’ve ever experienced co-worker conflict, you know how important it is to be able to handle the situation correctly, so the problem doesn’t continue or get worse. But what’s the best way to go about navigating conflict with a co-worker? Let’s explore some simple strategies for conflict resolution.

Tip No. 1 – Don’t avoid conflict.

By not addressing the situation or acting like it didn’t happen, you’re likely to see some negative outcomes that can affect your work life in the short-term and the long-term, including:

  • Creating further tension
  • Causing employees to quit their job
  • Causing employees to request transfer to a different department or work area

Tip No. 2 – Resolve the issue directly with the co-worker.

Poor communication is the main source of conflict between co-workers. Differences in personalities or communication styles is also a factor. For example, one co-worker might be direct or confrontational, while another co-worker might find this approach abrasive. If you feel that this is the case, it is best to try to resolve things directly with the co-worker.

A manager or supervisor does not need to be involved unless the problem doesn’t get resolved by talking it out, or the offending behavior is more than a matter of feeling disrespected.

Tip No. 3 – Start a conversation.

When approaching your co-worker about the conflict, it’s best to simply start a conversation. It’s important that you set the right tone for this meeting and allow both parties to feel as if they are being heard and respected. Here are some general guidelines for an initial conversation.

  • Ask your co-worker if you can talk privately.
  • Say something like, “I feel there’s a problem between us. I want to know what we can do to resolve it.” Sometimes this statement alone can stop the negative behavior.
  • Identify the conflict. Focus on the behavior, not the personality.
  • Be willing to listen and hear what the other person has to say.
  • Be calm; don’t get outwardly agitated or aggressive.
  • Avoid “you” statements that lay blame such as, “You undermine what I do.” Instead, use “I” statements such as, “I feel offended when my work is criticized.”
  • Develop a plan for how future problems will get resolved. Agree to tell each other if an issue arises in the future.

Employee resources to support a positive work culture

Your employer may offer free employee assistance program services to you and members of your family as part of your wellness benefits. Check with your human resources team to find out more.

If you are an employer looking for employee resources for your workforce, the Parkview Employee Assistance Program offers confidential counseling services to your employees and members of their household. Contact to learn more.

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