Managing Conflict

If you work with other people, sooner or later you will find yourself in conflict. Conflicts are inevitable in our workplace and can be a source of growth for individuals and teams. When mismanaged (or left unmanaged), however, they can become highly stressful and depleting.

Conflicts often have their source in perceived “differences”, based on our expectations of social interactions, such as our preferred ways of communicating (direct, indirect, task-oriented, friendly, etc.), how we think important values like “respect” or “fairness” should be expressed, and how things “should be done” properly in the workplace. Truth be told, our “shoulds” are quite subjective and dependent on our state of mind, as well as on our accumulated experiences of life. And according to numerous studies on unconscious biases, we tend to seek out people who will agree with how we see the world, thus reinforcing our sense of “being right”.

With great diversity in the workplace today (generational, cultural, religious, gender, etc.), learning to be more inclusive and appreciative of differences can dramatically increase shared learning, contribution and success in the workplace. And replacing “being right” with “being curious” about other points of view certainly reduces the chances of serious conflict escalating.

Suffice to say that in times of stress and uncertainty, opportunities for misunderstandings, mistrust and reactivity increase in us all. So do opportunities for conflict. As we strive to adapt to our post-pandemic “new normal” workplace, self-awareness and compassion for ourselves and others will be vital. This does not mean “avoiding conflicts” but rather seeing differences with curiosity and openness. We all react to stress differently, and we are all doing our best.

One key to managing conflict in a healthy manner includes encouraging an environment where open, honest communication is encouraged and modeled by leadership and supported by team members. Why not encourage a psychologically safe workplace where diverse employees at all levels feel free to speak openly about work issues without fear of reprisal? This is foundational to McGill becoming a healthy workplace where we can all engage in continuous learning and make a difference.

Another important factor to healthy conflict management is knowing your own ‘conflict style’ and how you typically deal with conflict. Do you face conflict head-on or do you withdraw? Do you look for win/win, or opt for win/lose? Whatever your style, self-awareness is key to learning how to manage conflict in a healthy way. Check out the resources below to help you on your journey toward healthy conflict management and greater self-awareness.

It is important to remember that conflict is natural and happens in every ongoing relationship. Rather than seeing conflict as negative, what if we viewed conflict as a catalyst for learning and positive change? Managing conflict in healthy ways can strengthen self-confidence and relationships, enabling individuals and teams to move to a deeper, more authentic level of communication and higher levels of performance.

Organizational Development’s Resources to Support Your Learning:

Managing Conflict

In this session participants will gain a greater understanding about their own responses to conflict as well as when they need to adapt or change styles to achieve better outcomes

Courageous Conversations

In this session participants will explore internal and external barriers to conflict and learn how to prepare for a conversation that is clear, meaningful, and effective.

Stress Management

Take a relaxing time out to better understand what stress is and the impact that it has on you and your team. Recognize the current stressors in your work life. Learn some strategies and techniques to help you better manage your stress today, and to limit the impact of stress in the months ahead. 

McGill's Behavioural Competencies

Behavioural Competencies provide a common language and frame of reference for attracting, retaining, developing and recognizing the best talent.

Online LinkedIn Learning Modules relating to Conflict:

Team Conflict Management Styles

Working with Difficult People

Improving your Conflict Competence

How to Proactively Manage Conflict as an Employee

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Coaching Ourselves Modules:

Managing Conflict in Teams

Candid Conversations

For more information about Coaching Ourselves Modules contact: angela.morse [at]

Other resources available at McGill Library:

Difficult conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Authors: Douglas Stone 1958- (Author), Sheila Heen (Author), Bruce Patton (Author)

Collaborating with the Enemy : How to Work with People You Don't Agree with or Like or Trust

Authors: Adam Kahane (Author), Jeff Barnum (Illustrator)

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