The rumble in the office: Taming workplace conflict

Let's face it: even the most agreeable co-workers clash sometimes. It's like a universal truth of shared cubicles and Zoom calls – at some point, tension, misunderstandings, or full-blown disagreements simmer to the surface. If you're thinking, "Ugh, not conflict!" I hear you. Workplace conflict can be messy, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright intimidating. That's where vulnerability comes into play.


How we approach conflict in the workplace reveals a lot about how we see ourselves and the world around us. Do we armour up, ready to defend our position and prove we're "right"? Do we shut it down, sweep it under the rug, and resentfully stew? Or is there another way?

The problem: When defensiveness is king

Most of us are no strangers to defensiveness. Those internal walls shoot up when faced with a conflict or the sting of perceived criticism. It's a reflex reaction from this primal place deep inside that shouts, "Protect! Preserve your ego!" The problem is that it gets us nowhere. We dig into our heels, the battle lines are drawn, and any hope of productive resolution or mutual understanding goes flying out the office window.

The cost of this perpetual defensiveness is higher than we think. Left to fester, conflict can erode trust, poison team dynamics, and lower morale. It sucks our productivity and our joy right out of our workday.

The antidote: A dose of daring

Here's where that daring bit comes in, or, as I like it, "rumbling with vulnerability." Vulnerability isn't just about spilling your deepest, darkest secrets at the water cooler. In the context of workplace conflict, it's embracing a profound shift in mindset:

Curiosity over certainty:

Instead of assuming you know precisely why Susan from Accounting snapped at you, get curious. Could there be other factors at play? Might your tone have accidentally rubbed her the wrong way? Curiosity opens the door to potential understanding instead of knee-jerk judgment.

Empathy over blame:

It's tough to empathise with someone when you're feeling attacked. Consider this: maybe they're stressed about a looming deadline, or an issue outside of work is affecting them. Seeing things from their perspective creates a tiny crack for compassion amidst the tension.

Accountability over shame:

Taking responsibility for your part is essential for any meaningful conflict resolution. It doesn't mean beating yourself up, but admitting where you could've communicated better or approached things differently signals respect and a willingness to mend things.

Putting it into practise

Let's get practical. Say you've been clashing with a colleague over differing work styles. How do you infuse this idea of vulnerability into that situation?

The ask:

Initiate a conversation with them, acknowledging the tension. Instead of launching into accusations, try, "Hey, I feel like we're not as in sync lately, and it's affecting our work. Can we schedule some time to discuss how we can work together better?"

Active listening:

This is golden. When it's their turn to speak, focus on truly understanding their perspective. Avoid interrupting, ask clarifying questions, and restate what you're hearing to ensure you're on the same page.

"I" statements:

Frame your observations with "I feel..." or "I noticed..." It's much less inflammatory than "You always..." or "You never..." which often puts people on the immediate defensive.
Finding Common Ground: Seek areas where your goals and needs align. What do you both ultimately want to achieve? This shifts the focus from clashing egos to a shared purpose.

Real talk: It's not easy

This vulnerability stuff takes practice. We're hardwired for self-protection, and old habits die hard. There will be times when you fumble, or frustration flares up. That's okay. The key is recognizing the pattern and gently correcting the course.

Over time, a more vulnerable approach to conflict builds trust and strengthens relationships. It fosters a work environment where disagreements are seen as opportunities for collaboration, not threats to our sense of self. And isn't that the kind of workplace we'd all rather be a part of?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, WC2N
Written by Aaron McCarthy, Expert Career & Confidence Coach.
London, WC2N

I am a passionate and experienced life coach with a decade of success empowering individuals to achieve their personal and professional goals. Expert in motivational strategies, stress management, and personal development. Known for a compassionate yet results-driven approach. Let's unlock your potential and transform your life!.

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