7 Steps To Defusing A Workplace Conflict


It doesn’t matter if you’re the office newbie or if you’ve been around for years: workplace conflicts will inevitably occur.

Learning how to deal with them calmly and constructively is an essential component of working life. Flaring up, getting defensive, or making reckless remarks and decisions isn’t going to help anybody, no matter how tempting it might be in the moment.


Here are 7 things you can do instead to defuse a conflict between yourself and a teammate. Don’t take any chances, though: sign yourself up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on communicating and relating effectively at the workplace!


1. Don’t sweep it under the carpet


The worst thing you can do when you feel a storm coming is to pretend that the skies are clear. Not only will you endanger yourself; you’re also enabling tensions to accumulate and snowball into far larger conflicts than they need to be.


No matter how much you may dislike confrontation, you cannot simply will an uncomfortable atmosphere into non-existence. Chances are, your team can feel the friction too, and no one wants to come to work feeling like they might step on a landmine any moment.

The earlier you confront the issue, the better.


2. Stay in control of yourself


Self-control is key, but it’s easier said than done.

Before you approach the offending teammate and ask for a private discussion to resolve the matter, check your own emotions.



If you don’t trust yourself to be able to maintain a civil conversation without lashing out, take a little time-out and do what you need to do to make sure you can stay level-headed and rational throughout the discussion.


3. Listen & empathise


There are two possibilities here. One, you come into the discussion needing to be the one who comes out on top. Two, you come into the discussion hoping to have a proper dialogue about what went wrong.

Practicing active listening and empathy is crucial at this stage. Your intention in speaking to the other party determines how willing you will be to really listen to their perspective and try to put yourself in their shoes.

  • Take turns to speak
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Listen.


It may sound deceptively simple to say you need to listen, but so many people don’t bother to do that.

If you just want to prove that you’re right and win the discussion, you’re likelier to practice selective listening and end up twisting their words to suit your argument. That seriously jeopardizes the possibility of coming to an agreeable conclusion.


4. Get to the root of the problem


After hearing each other out, you need to identify the root cause of the conflict.

Was it a poorly timed offhand remark that was taken the wrong way? Or a difference in working styles that was left unaddressed for too long? Or because of a personality or culture clash?


9 out of 10 times, conflicts at work arise out of miscommunication, which again underscores the importance of listening.


5. Don’t get personal


Instead of blaming the entire conflict on the other party’s personality quirk, or worse, tie the discussion down to a specific behaviour or action that caused friction so that things don’t get personal.



The minute someone feels personally attacked over the course of the discussion, it sets the stage for unnecessary drama that’ll only make both your lives harder.


6. Settle on a mutually beneficial solution


It may take a while, but it’s important to find common ground between the two of you so that an equally just solution can be reached.


Once that’s done, make sure that an explicit agreement is made with regards to any follow-up actions that have to be made, to who, and by when. Consider agreeing on preventative measures too, so that the problem won’t repeat itself in the future.


7. Apologise


If you’ve realised that you’re intentionally or unintentionally guilty, make it a point to say sorry.

Again, it might seem like a no-brainer, but simply saying “sorry” is sometimes the hardest thing to do in a conflict because it’s so embarrassing to admit it.


Still, it’s a tiny price to pay for the sake of preserving a good working relationship with your co-worker, especially if you’ve going to be working together a lot moving forward.


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