Often conflict in the workplace environment arises from a minor misunderstanding, which if not resolved quickly can lead to months of unnecessary tension.

Chris was a new member of a large marketing team. She had a telephone conversation with a client that, through inexperience, she felt unqualified to handle. She told the client that she would phone back after taking advice.

She approached Dave who sat next to her and asked for his help. He was totally engrossed in his work and was unresponsive to her request. She, finally, had to go to the team manager, something she was loathed to do so early in her career. She felt that she would be made to feel incompetent-though no good manager would have dealt with it in anything but a supportive way.

Her relationship with Dave worsened when a week later he asked Chris to help him finish a project. She admitted that she behaved childishly by refusing to participate. Dave reported the matter to the departmental manager. Dave admitted that he was probably responsible for the two of them getting off on the wrong foot. That day when Chris had asked for help, he was fighting a very tight deadline.

The advice he was given was to invite Chris out to a  local cafe and have an honest conversation. Apologise for being responsible for the pair of them getting off on the wrong foot. The conversation may be awkward for both parties, but most people hate personal conflict.

Pride usually is what stops people resolving a conflict. By admitting to a degree of self awareness, the other person will think much more highly of you in the future. You may never be close friends but have respect for each other and realise that it is to the benefit of you both to work in harmony.

Top tips for an honest conversation

Acknowledge responsibility

Always start the conversation by acknowledging your role in the mess. This is so important. By taking responsibility you are helping to defuse the other persons emotion. It helps to set a more level playing field. It puts the other person at ease and they are more likely to listen to you.

  • “I have avoided talking about this…….”
  • “Something I have done has contributed to this situation…….”


Never go into an honest conversation without a defined outcome. The conversation is going to be a roller-coaster. The person you are talking to may get upset. You might get emotional. You will need to ride the rollercoaster of emotion. The thing that will manage your emotions is to be focused on the outcome.

Listen and Validate

This can seem counterintuitive but to listen and validate is one of the most powerful things that you can do in any conversation.

The moment you say “Wow – that must be really tough”, or “What you are dealing with is challenging…….” or “I see why you responded as you did. I would have in the same situation……”.

When you validate someone they stop defending themselves. It is unbelievable. Once a person feels validated they are ready to listen to you.

Restate the outcome

Keep coming back to your outcome. It isn’t going to be easy. There are all sorts of emotions running through all of this. But if you can find the courage and confidence to start the conversation and have an outcome in mind, validate the other person and keep talking until you hit that outcome and then you will be amazed how much easier these conversations become.