Conflict in the Workplace

Updated: Dec 18, 2020


It's easy to lose perspective during conflict. It feels like a battle for your life, job, ego...for both parties. Thankfully, there is always a third side because the values of the organization, the principles of the mission, and the activity of the stakeholders is strongly directed by its culture.


Conflict germinates stronger relationships and a greater understanding of ourselves and others. When cohesive, the community within that culture will remind the parties in conflict what's really at stake, creating the opportunity for the third way to arise where previous misperceptions of us v. them overshadowed mediation. The third side helps us recognize from a higher perspective what the prize really is as it's rarely, if ever, winning the conflict.


Dr. William Ury and Roger Fisher, co-author’s of The Third Side describe Principled Negotiation, as one approach to peace building and conflict resolution.


Principled negotiation boils down to four key points.

  1. Separate the problem from the people. Don't get into personal attacks.

  2. Focus on underlying interests, rather than expressed positions. Positions are fine, but they're not the whole story—you have to dig deeper.

  3. Generate a variety of resolution options before deciding what to do. Don't narrow options prematurely.

  4. Insist the resolution be based on some objective standard: market value, scientific judgment, industry standards, company policy, etc. Stay away from subjective measurements and compromises.

The fourth point is doubly important because distortion often arises between parties in a conflict negotiation. Often, opposing sides in a conflict will actually exaggerate their differences, and/or create destructive mirror-image perceptions increasing the likelihood that they may both be putting words into the mouths of their adversary. An example might be, “I want to cooperate. But his/her refusal to cooperate forces me to react defensively.”


In a recent Ted talk, Ury warned that one should always expect the other side of a conflict will almost always hear something different. As the mother of a teenager, the caveat that this applies to negotiations not just between those in a workplace but across the board, such as family and friends came as no surprise. :)


Principled negotiating is just one of dozens of conflict mediation techniques IAAW has in our tool belt. Call today to set up a confidential consultation to see how we can help support transformation in your organization.We spend 70% or more of our waking hours in the the workplace…remote or otherwise. The world is weird right now. Work doesn’t have to be.

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