Insights with Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: Handling confrontation in the workplace

Positive conflicts in the workplace

As has been established, the workplace is where workers spend most part of their lives. It is also a known fact that those close to you are the ones who can offend and cause the hurt that affects you most. We have all experienced this situation at one point or the other in our lives: a conflict arises and we want to deal with it head on but we are not sure how to go about it without making our colleagues or leaders feel peeved or upset.

Oftentimes, we can be guilty of thinking we are going to face the worst, and then manifest that fear through negatively driven actions when we are faced with a necessary confrontation at work. When we are able to approach the most difficult of social interactions with emotional intelligence, it helps to ensure that even confrontations can be productive, positive parts of the process. Difficult conversations are found in every aspect of our lives, usually as an active means to improve relationships when handled well. It is therefore important not to neglect them when they happen.

Every organization, business or company’s ideal picture of the workplace is one that has a harmonious, creative thinking space with no interruption of outside influences. Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works. The working process has confrontations as an unavoidable part; and if you work to improve your approach when it comes to handling it, it will not carry the negative connotations that is often expected. When the mode of handling confrontations is set right from the leadership to the lowest in an organisation, business or company with empathy, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence, it can improve the processes of the workplace immeasurably.

People normally imagine an argument, an outburst or a conflict that has gone too far to be properly resolved when they hear the word “confrontation”. Opposingly, confrontations are not obliged to be filled with anger or heightened emotion. Constructing the scenario as a positive one can go a long way to decrease your expectations of their difficulty. Workplace confrontation is inevitable as the workplace consists of employees of various backgrounds and different work styles that are brought together for a common corporate purpose. Confrontations can and should be managed and resolved.

I have worked with several coachees on difficult conversations and all instances, the mindset was the major factor. Once their mindsets were tuned to think positively about those conversations as a necessary, healthy way to improve the way they work with the persons in question, they were ready to learn the right way of going about it.

No matter the shortcomings you want to point out to, you can be the person who helps them overcome a personal difficulty and move forward in their development when you are able to do it in the right way. In most cases the person in question going through a difficult time, or something is genuinely happening in their lives that is unconsciously affecting their performance; it your approach in handling that difficult conversation that can change the game for both of you and the productivity of the organization. shares an article on confrontation and reiterates the point that, conflict can occur in any organization when employees with different backgrounds and priorities work together. Conflict can be expressed in numerous ways such as insults, noncooperation, bullying and anger. Its causes can range from personality clashes and misunderstood communication to organizational mismanagement. The negative effects of workplace conflict can include work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failure, absenteeism, turnover and termination. Emotional stress can be both a cause and an effect of workplace conflict.

A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that four in 10 UK employees reported having experienced some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year. Most of that conflict is between an employee and his or her line manager. The survey also found that employees are more likely to report that they have experienced conflict with a staff member who is more senior to them.

The first steps in handling workplace conflict belong, in most cases, to the employees who are at odds with one another. The employer’s role – exercised by managers and HR professionals – is significant, however, and is grounded in the development of a workplace culture designed to prevent conflict among employees to the extent possible. The basis for such a culture is strong employee relations, namely, fairness, trust and mutual respect at all levels. This toolkit offers suggestions to create such an organizational climate and includes methods to deal with employee grievances and conflicts.

Insights with Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: Handling confrontation in the workplace

According to an SHRM survey, experts offer several causes of workplace conflict, including:

  • Personality differences.
  • Workplace behaviors regarded by some co-workers as irritating.
  • Unmet needs in the workplace.
  • Perceived inequities of resources.
  • Unclarified roles in the workplace.
  • Competing job duties or poor implementation of a job description—for example, placing a nonsupervisory employee in an unofficial position of “supervising” another employee.
  • A systemic circumstance such as a workforce slowdown, a merger or acquisition, or a reduction in force.
  • Mismanagement of organizational change and transition.
  • Poor communication, including misunderstood remarks and comments taken out of context.
  • Differences over work methods or goals or differences in perspectives attributable to age, sex or upbringing.

Employers can manage workplace conflict by creating an organizational culture designed to preclude conflict as much as possible and by dealing promptly and equitably with conflict that employees cannot resolve among themselves.

Since difficult conversations are inevitable, here are 4 tips to help you deal amicably with it whenever the need arises:


Clearly define what you want to achieve from the discussion before going into any difficult conversation. What was the circumstance that led to this confrontation? Clarify the challenge to be tackled in your mind in a calm, concise and reasonable way, making sure there is no negativity or emotional reaction clouding your judgement. Then ask the other person for a favorable time and place to meet.

It must a convenient time and a place where there will be no interruptions. Now, envisage what the ideal outcome will be with the best resolution in mind; and with this positive picture in mind, go ahead with the discussion.


Listening forms an important aspect of communication. Unfortunately, what people normally call listening is hearing, which is passive listening. Those who do the hearing instead of listening have a trait of just listening to react which causes them to sometimes cut in before the other person is able to finish what they have to say.

This happens because they usually think they know what the other person is saying, so start preparing the answer to give in reaction, instead of actually listening to the end before giving their answer. You must always try to avoid interrupting the other person by listening actively.

Rephrase what was said to make sure you understand what the other person said after they have finished speaking, then ask questions for clarification. It is after this that you will gain full understanding and be able to respond appropriately and objectively, devoid of emotions, with your focus on the issues and not personalities.


 I always say that when it comes to soft skills perfection does not sell because soft skills are human skills. Empathy is one of the human skills that reminds you that the other person is not perfect just as you are not. With this understanding in mind, you will view things from a holistic angle instead of doing so from only your perspective, as it tends to happen in confrontational situations.

Empathizing with the person you are confronting is always a key to a peaceful resolution, and it is the core of keeping your emotional intelligence in mind. Usually our communication is what limits our ability to nurture our best relationships. Always be sure to truly hear any explanations and justifications that the person in question has to offer, and consider them deeply before giving a response that will lead to resolving the confrontation. The result will be that both of you can walk away feeling understood and optimistic about the interaction.


The ultimate reason for confrontations is to address a challenge and seek a resolution. However, if care is not taken, you can lose focus and forget what you were seeking to achieve. A resolution must always be the goal in any attempt to deal with confrontation, instead of just talking about the challenges which may continue to recur in the future. The key to a great resolution is one which suits both parties and has a clearly achievable journey.

So do not just name an end goal, work together and decide how that end goal can be worked towards. Avoid setting deadlines on improvement – instead, support the person in question in their journey to solving the problem at every step. Make yours an open door for questions and counsel, and fewer needs for conflict will arise as you work forward.

Let us always keep in mind that we are not perfect as human beings; we are bond to experience confrontations at one point or the other in our lives. We must therefore always be prepared to solve it in a way that will strengthen the relationship for positive results, instead of causing divisions that will negatively affect productivity in the workplace.

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Insights with Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: Handling confrontation in the workplace

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