Behavioral Health

 Managing Stressful Workplace Relationships

Last Updated: August 18, 2020
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Workplace Conflicts Are Inevitable. Mitigate Difficulties. Build Bridges.

Conflict in the workplace can be an uncomfortable situation.  For many of us our workplace is at home, but regardless if you are working virtually or onsite, if problems are not handled appropriately tensions may increase. This can negatively impact morale, increase turnover, result in litigation, and influence the productivity of the organization (Iglesias & Vallego, 2012).  Early intervention is key. Conflict resolution and problem-solving can help.  Below are some tips for improving the workplace environment.

Ways to decrease conflict tension:

•       Minimize the time you are around the person you are upset with to allow for a cool down phase

•       Organize your thoughts before you talk to them

•       Enter the conversation with a mindset of compromise
•       Talk to the other person one-one-one

•       Listen and try to understand the other person's perspective
•       Be aware of your pitch and tone

•       Remain calm

•       Be mindful of how your body language may communicate perceived feelings
•       Focus the conversation on the topic area of contention or problematic behaviors
•       Provide examples to explain what you feel needs to change

What to do when you cannot find a middle ground?
•       Request a meeting with your supervisor
•       Stay focused on problematic behaviors
•       Negotiate reasonable solutions
•       Accommodate, be open to suggestions for change

•       Request the other person you are having challenges with discuss the topic with your supervisor (repeat processes mentioned in this section)

What supervisors can do when employees cannot find a middle ground?

•       Recognize when employees may be incompatible

•       Discuss with one or both parties possible transfer actions to another work area
•       Elevate the problem up to the next supervisory level when a resolution cannot be reached
•       Consult with human resources to provide additional courses of action

Leadership during Conflict

Leaders need to foster an environment of trust and mutual respect. Being a good listener is an important part of this process. Be aware of your bias. Challenge yourself to think objectively versus being judgmental or taking sides. If employees trust leaders they will bring problems forward and look to their leader to mediate. Encourage staff to come up with solutions prior to attending the meeting. Normalize and explain how people can work through conflict.  Emphasize how conflict may not necessarily be a bad thing, it can actually bring about constructive change (Sanchez, 2009). Express your confidence in each party to do their part to accomplish the agreed upon meditated resolution. Focus the conversation on shared mission goals towards the end of the mediation session.

Enriching the Work Environment

Good leaders foster a cohesive environment that emphasizes collaboration. Leaders must be good communicators and stress that employees must be responsible for their behavior. Improve the work environment with ongoing training, problem-solving, and socialization of appropriate behaviors. The mission statement of the organization can build behavioral expectations into daily practices and procedures for employees (Andrew, 1999). Employee contracts can be utilized to establish behavioral expectations and reviewed during performance evaluations.  A mentorship program can help build internal skills and allow for cross training, thus keeping employees frequently learning and engaged. Regular team meetings allow for transparency, consultation, and problem-solving to build trust amongst the team members.  By preventing or minimizing conflict in the workplace, teams can focus on innovation, enhance relationships, and build positive morale.


Conflict Management Skills External Link

Leadership Programs External Link

Department of Health and Human Services Supervision 101 External Link

OPM Labor-Management Relations Training External Link

Alternate Dispute Resolution Handbook External Link

Federal Leadership Development Programs External Link



Andrew, L., "Conflict Management, Prevention, and Resolution," The Physician Executive," 1999, p. 38-44.

Iglesias, Marta E. and Vallejo, Ricardo B, "Conflict resolution styles in the nursing profession."  Contemporary Nurse Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, 2012, p. 73-80.

Last, David M. "Peacekeeping doctrine and conflict resolution techniques." Armed Forces & Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol.22, no. 2, 1995, p. 187+. Gale Academic OneFile External Link Accessed 2 July 2020.

Sanchez, Margaret A. "Building bridges: managing conflict in the workplace." Bar Leader, vol. 33, no. 5, May-June 2009, p. 18+. Gale Academic OneFile External Link Accessed 2 July 2020.