Dealing with Conflict and Tension in the Workplace

Real life rarely mimics a fairy tale.  Why does this matter?  If we spend our lives preparing for a fairy tale ending to every situation we will be sorely disappointed.  However, if we prepare ourselves for a reality of conflict and tension, we can celebrate when it ends up better than expected.

Conflict and tension is unavoidable in the workplace.  Not many people go looking for it, but most of us find it after a while. Two people experiencing the same event can have two different perspectives.  Two people experiencing life together can see things so differently.  We are all so different – so why are we surprised that there is conflict and tension?

I know there are some naysayers out there saying, “I can avoid conflict!”  True, you can avoid conflict, but it doesn’t eliminate tension.  Enough of the psychobabble – let’s talk solutions.

Since conflict and tension are givens, how can we deal with them in our workplaces?


It starts with the BOSS.  As a leader, if you are that leader, you have the opportunity to create a safe environment where people can talk about the tension and conflict.  If you ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, it creates a hostile work environment.  Someone will take advantage of you ignoring a problem.  It always happens.

Solution:  Meet weekly one on one with each of your direct reports and truly seek to understand any stress, tension or conflict going on in their lives as well as focusing on job-related issues. It is impossible for people to give 100% when they are distracted by conflict and tension in the workplace.

Give your employees a platform for discussing issues and provide healthy direction for resolving conflict. That does not mean you need to get involved.  Encourage your employees to set aside time to talk with the person they are having conflict with.  Allow them the possibility of working it out themselves.  If they are unable to work out their differences, then bring both parties in and seek to understand both sides of the conflict and help them come to a compromise.  Martha and I do this all the time in marriage mentoring and this is the most effective method – letting others resolve conflict themselves in a safe environment.


However, if you are an employee and your boss causes the tension, what do you do then?  What if your boss refuses to deal with a bully in the workplace?  If your boss is the problem, I suggest that you tread carefully.  They may not know that they are causing conflict and would truly appreciate hearing it from one of their employees.  I know I would.  I want work to be fun, not a nightmare.

However there are certain bosses that just don’t want to hear it.  They want you to “Move On” and get your job done.  In that case, you have 2 choices.

Solution 1: Do the best job possible and hope that you can catch your boss at a weak sensitive moment to appeal to their more human side.

Solution 2: Look for another job.  If the boss is ignoring conflict there is likely conflict all over the office.  No one wants to work in that.


Solution: If the tension and conflict is with another co-worker, I first recommend that you take some time to look inside at yourself and see what you have contributed to the situation.  Then I would ask if you could sit down with your co-worker and talk it through.  MOST of the time, a simple misunderstanding causes the conflict or tension and it is easily resolved through a conversation.

Whatever the situation – conflict and tension are a given. How you choose to deal with it can impact your health and your job. Never ignore it – because conflict and tension grow every day they are ignored.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

About the Author, Jim Brangenberg

Jim's Mission: To transform Christian-run businesses through mentoring Christian Business Owners (CBOs) by incorporating the servant leadership of Jesus Christ in their businesses, their home life and their walk with Christ.

Jim Brangenberg