12 Sentences that Defuse Conflict at Work


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Defusing conflict is the only way to get something productive out of a conversation or meeting that has gone off the rails. But what do you say to avoid causing more disruption?

Article 11 Minutes
12 Sentences that Defuse Conflict at Work

Conflict situations can be challenging for even the most experienced HR professional, but having a clear strategy to train staff with conflict resolution skills, address employee grievances and defuse things is the only way to get something productive out of it. Depending on the situation, resolving interpersonal conflict and finding common ground between employees can also mean productivity is able to return to normal, while unresolved conflicts can have greater long-term impacts on the business as a whole.

This means it's always in the best interests of the company to develop conflict resolution skills that allow staff to resolve these difficult situations as quickly and effectively as possible - all while ensuring there's no lingering impact on individuals or potential future conflicts between the parties concerned.

What causes conflict in the workplace?

Poor communication

Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, interpersonal conflict and even chaos and violent conflict among employees. When employees fail to communicate effectively, it often results in a lack of clarity, misinterpretation and confusion. This, in turn, can lead to disagreements, resentment and even hostility. Poor communication can cause employees to feel undervalued or unheard, leading to a breakdown in teamwork and collaboration.

In some cases, poor communication can also lead to discrimination, harassment and bullying. Employees who lack communication skills may struggle to express their thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner, leading to conflicts with their colleagues. Furthermore, poor communication can also lead to poor decision-making, as employees may not have all the necessary information to make informed choices.

Unclear job expectations

Unclear job expectations can be a major contributor to interpersonal conflict between employees. When employees aren't clear about their roles, responsibilities and expectations, they may become frustrated or confused. This can lead to negative feelings, such as resentment or anger, towards colleagues who may be perceived as not doing their fair share of work or not being competent enough to handle their duties. This can create tension and conflict within the workplace, which can have a negative impact on overall productivity and employee satisfaction.

Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in mitigating the impact of unclear job expectations. Employees who have high levels of emotional intelligence are better able to recognize and process emotion, as well as manage the negative emotions of others. They are more likely to communicate effectively and collaborate with colleagues, which can help to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts from arising in the first place.

Resistance to change

Resistance to change is a common phenomenon in the workplace that can lead to conflicts between employees. When employees are resistant to change, they may feel threatened by new ideas or processes, and they may be hesitant to adapt to new ways of doing things. This can create tension between employees, particularly when some employees are more open to change than others.

Learn more: How IT Leaders Can Overcome Resistance to Change

In addition, resistance to change can also lead to conflicts over decision-making processes. When employees are not on the same page about changes that need to be made, it can be difficult to come to a consensus on how to proceed. This can lead to disagreements and arguments, which can further fuel workplace conflict.

To prevent workplace conflict due to resistance to change, it is essential to have strong conflict resolution skills. This includes being able to identify the root cause of the conflict, and being able to communicate effectively with all parties involved. It is also important to have a clear decision-making process in place, so that everyone knows how decisions will be made, and what role they will play in the process.

Toxic working environments

A toxic work environment can be defined as a workplace where employees feel uncomfortable, stressed, and demotivated due to various factors such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, or a lack of effective communication. Such an environment can lead to the development of negative emotions among employees that can manifest in various forms of workplace conflict. Employees may feel frustrated, angry, or resentful towards each other, leading to a breakdown in interpersonal relationships.

One of the primary reasons for workplace conflict in a toxic environment is the lack of a middle ground where employees can come together to resolve their differences. In such an environment, employees may become defensive and unwilling to listen to each other's perspectives, leading to a lack of understanding and communication breakdowns. This can further escalate conflicts and contribute to an even more toxic work environment.

Moreover, a toxic work environment can also lead to a high turnover rate, low productivity, and poor employee morale. This can negatively impact the overall success of the organization and its reputation. As such, it is crucial for organizations to take proactive steps to identify and address toxic workplace environments to foster a positive work culture that promotes employee well-being and productivity.

Unhealthy competition between employees

Unhealthy competition between employees can lead to workplace conflict and hostility. When employees feel that their colleagues are more competent or successful than them, it can trigger a range of emotional feelings like jealousy, resentment, and frustration. This can create a toxic work environment where employees are pitted against each other, leading to interpersonal conflicts and negative workplace dynamics.

Unhealthy competition can also create a divide between employees, where they are no longer working towards a common goal, but instead, focused on outperforming each other. This can create a lack of collaboration and teamwork, making it difficult to find a middle ground that benefits everyone.

Moreover, unhealthy competition can lead to a lack of trust and respect between employees. When employees feel that their colleagues are not working ethically or playing fair, it can cause resentment and anger. This can lead to a breakdown in communication, which can further escalate conflicts and create a hostile work environment.

In conclusion, it is essential to foster healthy competition and cooperation in the workplace to avoid conflicts and maintain positive interpersonal relationships between employees. Employers should encourage teamwork and collaboration, establish clear communication channels, and address conflicts in a timely and effective manner to create a harmonious work environment.

12 sentences that diffuse conflict between employees

Here are eight sentences that managers can defuse negative feelings conflict in the workplace and develop their conflict resolution skills:

1. "I wasn't aware of the situation. Please tell me what happened."

Often the most important part of resolving interpersonal conflict is remembering to listen. People don't always want a solution to their issue (though this is obviously advantageous) but just want someone to recognize what they've had to deal with. Saying you weren't aware of the situation will allow them to view you as an impartial party, which should instill confidence in your ability to be fair and judgment-free.

2. Could you clarify your standpoint so I can understand where you're coming from?"

Asking an employee or subordinate to clarify their standpoint is a powerful tool for diffusing conflict in the workplace. When tensions are high, it can be easy to misinterpret someone's words or actions. By requesting clarification, you give the other person a chance to explain their perspective in more detail. This can help to clear up any misunderstandings and prevent the situation from escalating further. Additionally, it shows that you are taking an interest in the other person's point of view and are willing to listen to what they have to say. This can help to build stronger interpersonal relationships in the workplace, as people feel more valued and understood.

3. "I understand you're upset but yelling at me won't help."

With internal conflicts, it's easy for employees to let their negative emotions get the better of them, but this anger or upset is very rarely targeted at the person they're speaking to. This short but effective sentence lets them know you empathize with their situation but that you need them to act in a certain manner to reach a constructive conclusion. This is also advantageous for the injured party as people rarely say what they mean when they're feeling strong emotions.

4. "How could we avoid this happening again?"

Most workplace conflicts can be attributed to a breakdown in communication at some point. Asking the individual about where improvements could be made shows that you care about the severity of the situation's impact on them and want to prevent any other employee from experiencing it. It also allows them to think in a way that doesn't necessarily assign blame to a single party, making them consider how their own actions may have led to the end result.

5. "I value your opinion but I don't see it that way."

One of the biggest challenges in handling internal conflicts is when you disagree with the injured party's position. This can easily lead to an escalating situation. By telling them you value their opinion first and foremost, you're reassuring them that you've been listening to them and empathize with how they feel. However, agreeing with them face-to-face only to change your mind after the fact will damage trust in you and the wider company. Instead, be honest about how you view the situation and why you see it that way, then give them the opportunity to respond to you.

6. "As we're not agreeing, I think we should arrange another meeting at a later date."

It's unrealistic to expect every conflict to be resolved in a single meeting and it may be an ongoing process to ensure any parties involved feel content with the solution. It's natural that nerves get fraught towards the end of a meeting, especially if both parties feel wronged. By arranging to hold another session at a later date, you are giving everyone the opportunity to collect their thoughts and try to come up with a solution.

7. "How should we proceed?"

This is especially important if the dispute involves a senior employee and someone under their management. Asking them how they want to proceed from here puts the control back in their hands and allows them to constructively think of how they can continue working at the company without being concerned about the same dispute happening again. Of course, what they say may not be possible in reality but it can help you form a judgment on what the next steps should be.

8. "I will bear that in mind going forward."

Depending on the situation, there may not be anything that needs to be done but it's more about ensuring that all parties feel comfortable working together. Often, just knowing that they have been heard and understood is enough for employees to be able to move on. Few people enjoy tense situations, especially with their colleagues, so just noting a complaint can be all you need to do.

9. "I'm sorry you feel that way."

If the situation involves another party who isn't at the meeting, you can be extremely limited as to what you can say without assigning blame to another employee. This is especially important if the other party is in a more senior position in the company. This sentence allows you to still recognize their feelings and empathize with what's happened without agreeing with their version of events.

10. "Let's work on this problem together."

Adopting a conflict management style that focuses on collaboration can significantly help diffuse tensions and foster strong relationships among team members. By saying "let's work on this problem together" to an employee or subordinate, you can send a clear message that you value the individual's input and are committed to finding a mutually beneficial solution. This approach encourages open communication, promotes teamwork and allows for diverse perspectives to be heard.

11. "I see how I've contributed to the problem."

Addressing workplace conflicts can be a delicate balancing act, but adopting an empathetic approach to conflict can greatly facilitate resolution. When you make the effort to acknowledge your own contribution to a problem by saying "I see how I've contributed to the problem," you demonstrate humility and self-awareness. This statement encourages open dialogue and helps subordinates process emotion, fostering a collaborative environment to work towards a solution. By taking ownership of their role in the issue, you can not only diffuse tension but also create a sense of shared responsibility, ultimately strengthening workplace relationships and promoting a culture of mutual respect and understanding.

12. "Thank you for being honest with me."

In today's fast-paced work environment, conflicts can arise due to various reasons, ranging from miscommunication to differences in opinions. Acknowledging an employee's honesty by saying "Thank you for being honest with me" can work wonders in diffusing such conflicts. This simple yet powerful statement fosters positive emotions, creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. By expressing gratitude for their honesty, you encourage open communication and send a clear message that their thoughts and feelings are valued. This, in turn, helps build a harmonious workplace where individuals feel comfortable to share their perspectives, leading to productive discussions and improved problem-solving.

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27/07/2023 robert P. Kearney
How does the custom and practice principle operate in the case where people are working in a company for a long period , say 10 year or so, in the case where an employer may decide to implement an aspect of a contract which has, to that date, remained dormant and unapplied.?