How to Reduce (or Eliminate) Personality Conflicts in the Workplace

Man and Woman Dealing With Conflict“People's minds are changed through observation and not through argument.

-- Will Rogers

When dealing with difficult people, it’s crucial to remember that we can’t control them, or change them -- the best we can do is change ourselves.

That being said, the first step in reducing conflict in the workplace is to understand why most conflicts occur to begin with.

Conflict begins when we focus on difference.

Think about it. When you have a misunderstanding with a co-worker, friend, loved one or family member, often the conflict occurs because you perceive the situation differently, are using different communication styles, or have different goals.

Usually, the person resonates as difficult because they are approaching the project, process, or situation much differently than you are.

When we focus on difference, we end up oversimplifying the situation and seeing it in terms of right and wrong. Our attachment to being right, or winning the argument can take priority and unnecessarily lengthen the conflict while undermining our willingness to really see, respect and equally value the other person’s point of view.

We Can Reduce Conflict by Reframing

Once we understand why conflict occurs, we can choose to reduce the conflict in our relationships by focusing on, and verbally pointing out something that we have in common with the person we’re in conflict with. This method is called reframing.

Reframing allows us to redirect the energy from, "I’m right" and "you’re wrong" into a more productive conversation about how you and I have a shared goal. This could be a larger departmental goal or the goal of a successful project. At a more tactical level, our goal could be to work together to get to the other side of this argument -- from our current misunderstanding to a place of understanding.

When expressed with sincere intention and an even keeled tone, reframing can change the tenor and temperature of our arguments and deescalate the intensity for both parties.

Understanding Values Conflicts

Occasionally, reframing means acknowledging that our misunderstanding is occurring because of a deep difference in how we see the world. This is a values conflict.

Values conflicts are some of the most challenging to work through because a person’s values make up who we are -- our beliefs, how we see the world, and very often what we expect from others. Examples of values include honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity and a sense of service.

I can usually tell I’m having a values conflict with someone when I am banging my head against the wall in disbelief that they don’t see the world the same way I do. Sometimes this even means arguing about the same thing over and over and over again. Since perception is informed by our values, my world view is just as obvious and “true” to me as their world view is to them -- recognizing how deeply ingrained, and unchangeable this difference is -- is the first step.

"Fixing" Value Conflicts

We can’t “fix” values conflicts. The best we can do is acknowledge they exist, and recognize them for what they are. Our values make up our identity and make us who we are and how we are.

We can reduce conflict in our lives when we recalibrate our expectations of others, accept them for who they are and focus our energy on changing what we choose about ourselves.


Jennifer Albrecht is the Director of Professional Development and Senior Facilitator with Learn iT! She helps individuals, teams and organizations develop leadership capacity, improve business practices, strengthen relationships and enhance performance to achieve bottom-line results.

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