Conflict: Business Threat or Opportunity?

Conflict can be either a business threat or opportunity. It’s how you approach conflict that matters.

What Is Conflict?

With a multigenerational workforce and cultural diversity being commonplace, the possibility of conflict is increasing within organizations. It’s also an increasing challenge within educational institutions and government agencies. But I propose we should not see conflict as a threat; we should see conflict as a way to improve and to experience new opportunity.

You Never Want To Be An Expert In Conflict

I know – this might sound like an odd thing to say. I don’t mean that we should avoid conflict or become complacent. In fact, I believe most of us need to become better at conflict and negotiation.

Here’s my thought. Conflict management is emotional and forever changing. Empathy, listening skills and responding vs. reacting are three of our best tools – not a prescribed ‘expertise’ or ‘formula’.

Early in my career I had someone try to ‘manage’ a conflict situation I was involved in.  I felt like I was part of a laboratory experiment and wondering what book they had memorized – they were clearly using technical language. It was very unproductive. If they had just tried to be ‘present’ and willing to do their best (and make mistakes), it would have gone much better.

Expect To Make Mistakes

Making mistakes makes you human – and a bit vulnerable… which often works in your favour as it begins to engage their empathy.

I find one of the best ways to make this work is to come clean immediately in your discussion. For example – you may begin your conflict discussion / negotiation with an opening similar to this:

“I’m not an expert at conflict. I am however committed to doing the best I can. My goal is to stay level headed and to stay open to discovering what you need / feel and what I need / feel. Talking with you is important to me – so I apologize in advance because this might be frustrating for you as I might get something wrong. As we go along I’m going to do my best to understand and work with you; please correct me and be patient with me if you are able.”

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes

Don’t argue. When you argue the real enemy becomes the adrenalin pumping through you body – not the other person. You need to respect the person you’re talking to, the conversation topic and of course… respect yourself.

One of your best tools to use is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Therefore, tapping into your empathy is your best first-step as you work toward resolution.

As you do this you are able to realize that most people share similar needs, wants and interests and even beliefs … but your perceptions are what may be different is a great advantage.Arguments and Confrontation in the Workplace

Not arguing is half the battle. And when you are seen as someone who is trying to understand someone or something else, already walls, anger, tension, frustration all start to reduce and compromise, understanding and generosity are likely to be returned.


Think positively. Listening is often a skill that evaporates with the heat of an argument.

Know that you might have better conflict resolution skills, so if the other person gets aggressive – or goes quiet, be mindful that these may be coping mechanisms they are instinctively using. Stay present and focused on your objective – look for opportunities you can both embrace.

Listening doesn’t mean you have to agree – it does mean doing your best to understand. Each of us is a unique, complex individual with different experiences, education, strengths/talents, needs, wishes and feelings.

Even in conflict – begin by assuming that the person you are in conflict with has a good point – even if it is a small one. When people are in conflict situations listening with an open mind is difficult, however, the fastest way for your audience to respect and listen to you is for you to respect and listen to them.

Happy communicating and conflict resolution.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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