How Not to Deal with Conflict

Almost no one enjoys conflict. But it’s something we all need to deal with from time to time, in order to maintain healthy relationships. Further, we need to deal with conflict the right way so that we minimize it, and don’t exacerbate it.

I’m amazed at how often people do the wrong thing regarding conflict; doing the wrong thing, even unintentionally, will usually make your conflict much worse instead of better.

Here are four things that can cause conflict to escalate:

  1. Ignoring the issues of others. Just because an issue isn’t important to you doesn’t mean you should just ignore it. Ignoring a situation does not make conflict go away. Saying to the other person that something isn’t important enough to get upset about only makes the conflict worse.

Let’s assume that your co-worker has mentioned to you that she has a sensitivity to perfume, adding that she would prefer you not wear it at work. You like your perfume, and don’t believe she has a sensitivity, so you choose to reject or ignore her request. Your response to her request is something along the lines of, “Of all the things to worry about? This isn’t one of them.”

This strategy will not make the tension or conflict that exists between you go away. It doesn’t matter if your colleague has a sensitivity to perfume or not—she has told you that she does, and has asked you not to wear it. Your intentional rejection of her request will create tension that will escalate every day that you “forget about” or rebel from her request. By ignoring the situation, you will make it worse, not better.

  1. Being defensive or making excuses. Recently, actress Roseanne Barr sent some racist tweets. As a direct result, her successful television was cancelled. Several hours after it happened, Barr returned to Twitter, claiming she had taken an Ambien, and therefore wasn’t responsible for her behavior.When something you’ve done causes conflict, making excuses for your behavior will not make it better. It will actually make it worse. For instance, Barr’s excuse likely won’t make one iota of difference in the eyes of the person she attacked with her racist tweets, or to any of the hundreds of people who lost their jobs due to Barr’s actions.

Own your behavior. Apologize if necessary. Fix it if you can. But in making excuses for your behavior, you will escalate the conflict.

  1. Being emotional about the situation. No one enjoys conflict. Emotional reactions to it are natural and normal. But losing control, or expressing your frustration verbally, is not good. You need to demonstrate professionalism, control, and restraint because when you lose your cool you encourage the other person to as well. Anger is contagious. Angry behavior will cause the other person to lose their cool as well. As you can imagine, this is not the way to deal with conflict.You may have a conflict with a co-worker, but yelling at them, belittling, bullying, or behaving aggressively will not make the situation better. Speaking more loudly will not make them listen to you. Yelling is not the answer.
  1. Not holding back your “inside voice” will turn your conflict sour. When we are dealing with conflict we usually have two conversations happening at the same time. The out-loud conversation is the one you have with the other person, but there is also a passive-aggressive conversation you have in your head. Keep the two conversations separate.

Mumbling under your breath is likely to be heard. It isn’t the correct way to minimize conflict because it will add fuel to the fire that already exists. Just because you’re thinking something doesn’t mean you should verbalize it.

Let’s say you’re enjoying a team pot-luck lunch with everyone at work. You have your group of work friends but you have a bit of tension with Mike on the team. You don’t really like him; you two don’t really get along, and he doesn’t really like or get along with you, either. During your team lunch, a conversation about gossip starts up and Mike announces that he thinks that is a horrible thing to do to your coworkers—why would anyone spread gossip around the office? You are shocked because you think Mike is the worst gossip in the office. You mumble a sarcastic comment under your breath that may or may not have been heard by Mike. But you can be sure that someone heard it, potentially making a comment or giggling, and Mike is convinced you said something about him (which you did!). That action by you will cause the tension in your relationship to escalate. Ignoring Mike’s original comment, or not voicing yours won’t relieve the tension you already have with Mike, but it will most certainly avoid escalating it.

The laughter you get from others is not worth the escalation of tension in your already fractured relationship. Learn to keep unproductive thoughts to yourself.

Avoiding these four faux pas isn’t easy, but it is important. Conflict isn’t fun. Making it even worse is not a good idea—however, it is avoidable.

Article By Rhonda Scharf,


Rhonda Scharf is a well recognized Professional Speaker, Trainer and Author. She specializes in helping Administrative Professionals to thrive in their work environment using her proven tools and strategies. She is a trusted resource for many organizations worldwide, and is based in Canada and the United States. She holds the highest speaking designation in the world, the Certified Speaking Professional and was recently inducted into the Canadian Speaking Hall of Fame. She is only one of two people to hold her CSP, HoF, and the Spirit of CAPS. Rhonda is also an active member and supporter of many administrative professional associations across the world.

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2 thoughts on “How Not to Deal with Conflict”

  1. Hi,
    Very much impressed with your article.
    Me working as an executive assitant, always upgrade myself with effetive communication skill.

    Is it possible to forward me some article about the same?
    waiting for your reply
    Vidya Rao
    email id:

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