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Navigating Office Politics and Conflict Resolution: Tips from Therapists

Wherever there are people involved, there will be conflict, and this includes the workplace. We all have our own needs, values, beliefs, and expectations from each other, and when there is a mismatch of these among individuals, tempers can rise and spill over into conflict and arguments. Some of the most common causes of workplace conflict include unclear or unequal division of responsibilities between colleagues, competition for resources like time, money, equipment, etc., differences in values and interests around work, pushing of boundaries, and a build-up of smaller miscommunications.


If conflict and tension between staff are left unchecked, it can very easily escalate into breakdowns of communication, increased absenteeism, reduced teamwork, drop in morale, and in the worst cases bullying, harassment, ostracisation, and outright disputes. It is therefore important to both resolve and manage conflict, i.e., clear out the issues of contention at the moment and also build strategies to de-escalate and avoid future escalations.


Conflict resolution can feel very scary, overwhelming, and outside of your control, however, there are a few psychological perspectives and techniques that can help better equip us to effectively deal with these workplace dynamics.


1. Express the issue at an early stage

It is important to bring up issues as they are starting to come up instead of keeping them to ourselves. Delaying the communication of these issues can create a build-up of resentment and can open up space for rumours and gossip to escalate tensions. When we voice our concerns it can reduce misunderstandings and the issues can also be resolved earlier with less effort to repair relationships that might get strained as conflict drags on.


2. Emotional regulation

Expressing the issues we are struggling with can be overwhelming, and often we lose our cool and end up shouting, crying, or storming off in the middle of the conversation. Communication lies at the heart of conflict resolution, and being able to express ourselves in a clear and non-threatening manner can help reduce tensions and make it easier to find a collaborative solution. Some of the activities that can help with emotional regulation in conflict include deep breathing, drinking cold water, stepping away from the conversation to cool down before we communicate our feelings, communicating through letters, emails, or texts, etc. It can also involve having a mediator like HR or another colleague step in.


3. Active Listening and Empathy

It is crucial to actively listen to the other party to identify and address the source of the conflict. Even though conflicts can often feel one-sided, with one party being the victim and the other the perpetrator, the reality is that both parties play a role in creating the conflict. Hearing out the other party without interrupting them or trying to state our own case, can help them feel understood and valued. This can be done through the use of open and non-threatening body language like nodding, etc., by repeating what you have understood of the other party's communication/concerns, and by putting yourself in their shoes.


4. Accepting criticism

Acknowledging our role in the conflict and taking accountability for any feedback or criticism we may receive is key to its resolution. This helps the other party feel heard and understood. It also helps change any patterns or systems that might create a recurrence of the conflict and the tension. Getting criticism can feel upsetting, but it is important to remember that feedback is about your work behaviours and not you as a person.


5. Setting Boundaries

Using clear and assertive communication to set healthy boundaries in the workplace helps reduce the build of resentment and tension. Knowing when to say no, avoiding unnecessary involvement in gossip or conflicts, and prioritizing self-care can all be means to create these boundaries. By maintaining a balance between work and personal life, employees can better handle stress and navigate office politics without compromising their well-being.

6. Problem Solving

Adopting a collaborative approach to problem-solving where all parties work together to find mutually beneficial solutions. This will ensure that everyone's needs are being met and that no one has to compromise more than the others. It enables the creation of systems that can manage and avoid conflict in the future.




Conflict resolution is one of the most challenging tasks in a workplace but knowing these skills can help us feel more confident and at ease when we are confronted with the same.


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