Are you 4 or 44?   

Just watching 10 minutes of CH4’s The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds gives you some insight into how subtle and sneaky conflict can be.

Although slightly more sophisticated and grown-up than a 4 year olds playground, the workplace can be a hive for unspoken or all out and ugly conflict.

I’ve thought a lot about how to manage emotion in what can be quite a dramatic sector to work in at times.  Nerves frazzled, hormones often blamed for bad behaviour and egos looking for recognition on more levels than the Empire State Building.

Ready for battle… who is the strongest hero?

In a workplace where you quite often encounter quite rigid roles, huge egos, watertight professionalism and a lot of entitlement,  I’ve probably encountered conflict in all it’s guises over the years …

One particularly terrible time I had was with a boss who deleted all of my files on our shared drive when I was on holiday telling me upon my return…

“You don’t need them, you can just write new ones”

Letter of agreements, tour scripts, contacts, budgets, 2 years or reports all gone!    Yes I rang the IT department, no they couldn’t get them back, yes I also spoke to a union rep, HR and our CEO but mainly I just cried and then in the end left for a much nicer job.

Not just because of that one incident, but because on the whole it was a really unhappy environment for me.  One of the main reasons was there was never any human connection, 40 hours a week of never just having a nice chat.  This particular boss didn’t even eat lunch – just a mars bar every three days.


Do you recognise any of these forms of conflict at work?

  • Bad moods
  • Silence
  • Stubbornness
  • Entitlement
  • Tears
  • Strops
  • Agression
  • Repression
  • Control
  • Bullying
  • Put downs
  • Removal of responsibility
  • Passive aggression
  • Sexism
  • Racism
  • Be-littling
  • Terrible emails
  • Over sharing

Gosh just typing that list thinking of those people made me shudder!  Some of these experiences can really shape our confidence as we move through our careers (if we let them).

This! (As an inside, I’ve never had anywhere near as much conflict with men as women at work)

How not to cry at work and other stories 

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is when to call people out on this behaviour and when to let it go.  We’re all human sometimes life gets to be more than we can cope with…

If you ask someone…

“Is everything ok?”

…it gives them a moment to question their behaviour and answer that question if even in their head.  It will make them think much more than any sad eyes holding back tears will do.  Try it…

“How’s things with you, I feel like you’re a little stressed?”


It’s not there but it is… the passive aggressive white cat in a snowstorm (artwork (c) Oliver Jeffers)

Top 5 tips for dealing with conflict at work 

  1. Walk Away

If it’s an email this is EVEN more important – people can write things in anger they would never say in person.

Ultimately, the ONLY way to deal with these types of messages is to kill it with kindness whilst making your point in reply.  BUT you definitely won’t do that well if you press reply straight away.  I may have done this once or twice… but now I never ever do.

If you’re in a meeting, excuse your self to go to the toilet.  I’ve done this before and then said I had to take a call – nothing is more important than your wellbeing.  If someone has shouted at you or been mean at work take yourself out of the situation straight away.  It’s not school, you won’t get detention.  And if you want to hand your notice in write it along with your reasons and sit with it for a few days.  Sometimes this is the only option.

2. Make a Note

This can be a voice note about how you feel, hand-written or DRAFT email reply to the person’s behaviour.  It’s only ever meant for you.

I have put so many of these notes into the fire.  You are (probably) not going to change someone by sharing your heartfelt feelings.  Yes you could but would it make a difference? Let it go…


3. Tell 5 People

Following on from my blog on The Appreciation Club – who you going to call?  If you can make a call or two at lunch, do it!

There’s lots of time in a week to walk away

4. Force yourself to think about it differently

This relates to point number one… what is really going on for the person for them to act this way?  Perhaps they had an argument with their partner that morning, feel a little off colour or hormonal?  Perhaps they are threatened by your brilliance?  Whatever it is, if you feel they’ve acted or reacted out of turn, remember it’s 99% possible it’s not about you/ your work.


5. Decide what you’re going to do and stick to it.

Do nothing, do something, it’s really your call.    Conflict at work is resolved by you by dealing with it in your way and making sure you know you are doing your best.

Vintage coffee grinder with black coffee, plant and milk

A Coffee break works wonders

I’ve curated a life now where I pretty much work with ALL the best people (my type of folks) but conflict does crop up (usually with people who think in a more linear way) and it’s always HARD!

The key is to try not encounter it every single day or you’ll just burn out and really in all honesty life’s so short isn’t it.  If you really can’t move jobs, just think about how to move on.

What are your tips for resolving conflict at work?  Grin and bear it, rant to your mum?  I’d love to know!  Leave me a comment below or come find me over on instagram. 

I hope this list of 5 tips of dealing with conflict at work helps someone somewhere.