Is someone really getting on your nerves at work?

Strategies for Managing Conflict In the Workplace

This article briefly explores Conscious Perception and Empathic State Development (adapted from David Taylor’s Naked Coach: Business Coaching Made Simple, 2007) as two related strategies for better managing conflict in the workplace. An emphasis is placed on how our points of view shape our patterns of interpretation and response.

Ultimately it is proposed that taking personal responsibility for the impact of our limited perspectives and behaviour, while developing alternative and empathic interpretations of others’ behaviour, is the key to better workplace relationships and becoming good at managing conflict in the workplace.


It’s one of those Monday mornings.

A million things to do and you’re running off your feet. Bills to pay, things to fetch, and a very important presentation to make in the afternoon. On top of that you have to get to the bank during your lunch hour.

At one o clock you brave the midday people traffic. Your stress levels are up, but you’re ready to attack those long queues. As you get to the bank entrance you’re distracted and busy rehearsing your presentation in your head. Before you know it a very large man completely runs you off your feet. As you hit the ground you’re filled with embarrassment which eventually morphs into absolute disdain and anger.

As you look up at the towering man, automatic thoughts jump into your head. “What an idiot! Why doesn’t he look where he’s going? Who the hell does he think he is? Does he have no respect for other people?”

You’re about to share some colourful French with the man still towering above you and not offering any help or apology.

But then you notice something.

The man is wearing a pair of sunglasses. You watch him bend over as he searches the floor with his hands. And then you see it… the white cane lying to your right. You reach out and hand the blind man his white cane.

Suddenly your anger and the attribution of negative intent to his actions shift to compassion and understanding.

Why? You’ve expanded your perception… your point of view.

Why we have to take responsibility for managing conflict in the workplace.

Is someone really getting on your nerves at work? Or have you already had a full-on blow up after a long period of repeated frustrations with somebody’s behaviour? Many of us experience conflict or some kind of tension with colleagues who seem to be oblivious of what they are doing to tick us off.

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And here’s the challenge…

Most of us (or rather most of our egos) don’t really take kindly to the idea that it could be our own limited perspectivesassumptions andautomatic thoughts that are contributing to the tension, misunderstandings and disharmony between ourselves and our colleagues.

We all play the blame game, don’t we?

Blame feels more powerful and safe than taking responsibility for how our point of view is complicit in undermining collaborative and productive workplace relationships. We can get stuck in unconscious cycles of automatically attributing negative intent to our colleagues’ actions, rather than looking beyond what is seemingly obvious (to us at least!). Eventually a cycle of blame and defensiveness results (often unspoken) which in turn leads to a growing sense of mistrust and disengagement at work?

And then we are going nowhere fast.

But we all reach a point where we know a different approach is required. The problem with blaming our colleagues for our discontent is that it disempowers us. We lose any sense of autonomy and control in shaping our workplace relationships into more productive and rewarding partnerships.

But we can begin to make more responsible choices… more conscious choices based on empathy and a wider field of perception.

A Catastrophic Voice Message

The bottom line is that limited or partial information of a situation can lead to unhelpful and negative interpretations. Our perception or point of view affects the meaning we attribute to other people’s actions and words.

For example:

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