Workplace Violence Blog

Workplace Violence Tip: 3 Steps to De-escalate a Conflict with a Co-Worker

Posted on Thu, Jan 12, 2012

Personality conflicts are the most commonly reported problems in the workplace. More and more organizations of all sizes are investing in "conflict resolution" training, which can help tremendously, but if a clear understanding of the core issues are still not addressed, these issues can last for months, years, or until certain parties leave the organization.workplace conflict resolution

Too often these conflicts go unresolved because people concentrate on the personality of the opposing person rather than focusing on the issues - which doesn't ever allow anything to ever get resolved. This then escalates to create a toxic work environment for all employees - rather they are in the inner circle of the conflict or not.

In any relationship, both people influence the other’s behavior. In personality conflicts both parties bear some responsibility for where “things are at.” A conflict at work bears many of the same issues as a domestic conflict: Both parties are desperate to be right, and neither wants to back down when they truly believe they are in the right. It's like looking through 2 different kaleidoscopes at the same image - the description of what is being looked at is going to be polar opposite and there is no mediation that will change those views.

Although we can’t control or change the personality of the other person, we certainly can control our own emotions and change the way we react to the other person. Workplace conflicts can rip teams apart, destroy moral and quality of life. This is the first 3 of 7 steps I will be sharing over the month on how to de-escalate or resolve a workplace conflict:

1. Avoid discussing the issue with other colleagues. Many people who are involved in personality conflicts recruit allies among their co-workers. This can create polarization among co-workers and it escalates the situation. While you are passionately upset about this, others are not and most often co-workers are uncomfortable and sometimes frightened over the situation. This behavior is disruptive to the organization and makes it more difficult to fix the situation. FOCUS on what you can do to make things better!

2. Never respond immediately to the person who is irking you. They know how to push your buttons and they have done so over a period of time. By not responding immediately you give yourself some time to think through your response. This pause may cause the other person to think that you are "backing down" and they will begin to de-escalate. Don't view "backing down" and taking time to analyze the situation as a weakness - it's actually the mature path to take.

3. Look in the mirror! How are you contributing to this situation? What role are you playing in the escalation of things? The key is to focus on what you can do differently! What can you do to make things better? If you can figure out your role in the dynamic you’ll learn something important about yourself and you will be able to de-escalate the conflict.

Dealing properly with a workplace conflict means being honest, mature and considering the greater good of your workplace over your own issues. Don't drag outside parties, take time to think before reacting, and honestly analyze how you are contributing to the conflict. If you follow these 3 initial steps, your conflict will be a thing of the past and all parties will be able to move forward towards productivity and a positive work environment.

Call or email me today to talk about Violence Free "Workplace Conflict Resolution" and "Managing Angry Employees and Co-Workers" Programs at (623) 242-8797 or


Tags: safety, workplace violence, workplace violence policy, bullying at work