Conflict at Work: is it Them or is it You?

Thank you Michelle Hollomon, of Eastside Counseling and Coaching for bringing us today’s blog post! If you would like to meet Michelle, she is a member of the thinkspace community, and the Featured Entrepreneur for our October 13th Wine Wednesday event! Register Here.

Conflict at work: is it them or is it you? ~By Michelle Hollomon

Nothing can rev the engine like a hearty disagreement in the office. Whether sparks are flying or it is stone cold silent, conflict is a part of normal office life. You may not be able to resolve all conflict, but you can learn to manage it in a way that keeps you from losing yourself (and your shirt too).

Zack was a partner in charge of sales of a midsize company. His strengths included building relationships, product knowledge, and taking the attitude that, behind each sale was a real person. His team liked him and he liked his job. But he felt at odds with his business partner, Pete. When Pete offered a suggestion or ask about progress, Zack got defensive. The more this happened, the less he and his partner talked. This lack of communication affected everyone in the company, and it felt like the company was going in two different directions. Zack came into my office asking, “How can I talk to my partner without getting negative and combative?”

I consider Zack a superstar exec for two reasons; 1) he valued his business relationship more than saving face, and 2) instead of blaming his partner, he sought to resolve the conflict by owning his part.

It turns out, that Zack was acting more like an employee than a partner. Zack respected Pete’s expertise and sense of command so much, too much in fact, that he felt inferior. Zack was a partner in writing, and a subordinate in action. Pete’s self-confidence triggered Zack’s self-doubt. His insecurities resulted in passive anger, defensiveness and un-aligned vision for the company. This hurts the bottom line.

Zack and I talked about the value of the strengths he brought to the business. Zack developed a new script for himself that included “being an equal” and “having valuable input”. Zack was able to accept Pete’s strong style of leadership without taking offense to it, and was able to validate his own contributions to the business without considering them to be “less than”. This didn’t happen over night, but it did happen, and the partnership started to thrive again.


Consider the value: there is great value in the synergy, effectiveness and creativity of working relationships. Sometimes, however, you will do better to cut an unhealthy relationship loose in order to build a healthier one. How important is it for your success to make this particular relationship work?

Own your part of the conflict: it is easy to blame the other person. However, a good leader takes ownership of his contribution to the conflict and seeks resolution.

Ask for Help: often two people need a mediator to help resolve an issue. The working relationship between the two may be important enough to seek outside help.

Take a Break: if you are committed to finding a solution, take a break to think things over with a time and place to reconvene.

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