American Association for Physician Leadership

Operations and Policy

What Are Some Approaches for Managing Conflict in the Workplace?

Harvard Business Review

August 31, 2017


Understanding your style - and your counterpart’s - is the key to resolution. Here are five tips to begin addressing the issue.

Understanding your style — and your counterpart’s — is the key to resolution. Here are five tips to begin addressing the issue.

When it comes to conflict, most of us have a default approach: We tend to either avoid it or seek it out. If you are dealing with a disagreement, it’s useful to know what your natural tendency is and to put some thought into the other person’s conflict style.

Here are a few ways to manage conflict:

ASSESS YOUR COUNTERPART'S CONFLICT STYLE: Look for patterns in his behavior and tactfully ask how he or she usually handles disagreements. You can also get input from trusted colleagues about your colleague’s style.

IF YOU’RE BOTH CONFLICT AVOIDERS: Take the lead. Say directly, “I know neither of us likes conflict, but instead of ignoring the problem, what can we do about it?” Do your best to draw the other person out in a sensitive, thoughtful way and fight your natural instinct to shy away if things get tough.

IF YOU’RE BOTH CONFLICT SEEKERS: Prepare yourself for the conversation. Knowing that you’re both likely to feel impatient, schedule your discussion in a way that allows you to take breaks. Pause the discussion whenever things get too heated.

IF YOU’RE A SEEKER AND YOUR COUNTERPART IS AN AVOIDER: Ask the other person to actively participate in the conversation. He or she should not hide opinions, and you should refrain from being a bully. Try to be patient.

IF YOU’RE AN AVOIDER AND YOUR COUNTERPART IS A SEEKER: Explicitly ask for what you need. Earn the seeker’s respect by being direct about what you need from him or her, be it patience or a less-aggressive tone of voice.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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