Understanding and Managing Conflict: Insights from Our Recent Webinar ​

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Conflict in the workplace is an inevitable part of professional life. Our recent webinar delved into the root causes of conflict, the nature of work-based violence, and effective strategies for managing and de-escalating conflict. This article synthesises the key points discussed, offering a comprehensive guide to understanding and addressing workplace conflict.


Why Does Conflict Occur?

Conflict often arises when individuals feel they are not getting what they want or need. Common triggers include being told “no,” feeling frustrated, or experiencing provocation or violence from others. Recognising these triggers is the first step in managing conflict effectively.


What is Workplace Violence

A critical question posed during the webinar was: “Is workplace violence limited to physical attacks?” The answer was a resounding no. Verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical assault, impacting mental health and well-being. It is essential for employees to understand that they do not have to tolerate verbal abuse. Both physical and verbal abuses are harmful and can have lasting effects on an individual’s health.


The Brain’s Role in Conflict

Understanding the brain’s response to conflict is crucial. In conflict situations, the brain often shifts towards what is known as the “animal brain,” which is driven by instinct and emotion. This part of the brain is primarily concerned with survival and can perceive threats that may not exist. The animal brain’s responses are categorised as fight, flight, freeze, or flock, aimed at protecting the individual from perceived danger.

However, in the workplace, we need to engage the rational brain, which allows us to think logically, solve problems, and communicate effectively. When a client or colleague is aggressive, they are operating from their emotional brain. Our goal should be to guide them back to their rational brain to facilitate a constructive dialogue.


Dealing with Conflict and Stress

·         Recognising Signs of Stress: Conflict and stress often go hand-in-hand. Common signs include increased heart and breathing rates, changes in skin tone, nausea, shaking, and cold, clammy hands. Recognising these signs in yourself and others is vital for managing stress.

·         Controlling Stress: Preparation, training, and awareness are key to controlling stress. Techniques such as deep breathing—inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, repeated four times—can help manage stress levels.

·         Non-Verbal Cues: Body language plays a significant role in communication. Observing non-verbal cues, such as how someone stands, where they place their hands, and their eye movements, can provide insights into their emotional state and potential risks. Understanding your own non-verbal cues can also help in intentionally displaying calming and non-threatening behaviour.


Warning Signs and Safety

Recognising warning signs of potential aggression is crucial for maintaining safety. Indicators include a side-on stance, clenched fists, avoiding eye contact, and stepping closer. Proximity can escalate the risk, so maintaining a safe distance is essential. The golden rule is to ensure you go home safely at the end of the day, as emphasised in the iconic advice from Kevin Costner and Sean Connery in “The Untouchables.”


The Bataris Box and Communication Model

Effective communication is central to conflict resolution. The Bataris Box illustrates how our attitude and behaviour influence and are influenced by others. The communication model—comprising transmission, reception, understanding, and feedback—highlights the importance of clear, empathetic communication. Cultural differences, disabilities, substance use, mental health issues, and mistrust can disrupt communication, making it essential to adapt and respond appropriately.


De-escalation Skills


  • Listening: Pay attention to verbal cues, body language, and tone of voice. Active listening helps in understanding the root cause of anger
  • Empathising: Show empathy while maintaining assertiveness. This balance helps in managing the situation without escalating it further.
  •        Asking Open Questions: Encourage the individual to express their feelings by asking open-ended questions. This can help them move from their emotional brain to their rational brain.
  •          Paraphrasing and Repeating: Asking them to repeat their concerns and paraphrasing their statements demonstrate that you understand their perspective and are taking them seriously.
  •          Collaboration: Finding solutions requires cooperation. Engaging the individual in the problem-solving process can lead to more effective resolutions.
  •          Making a Connection: Establishing a personal connection can facilitate communication. Start with a casual conversation, introduce yourself, and create a rapport before addressing the conflict.

In the end workplace conflict, though challenging, can be managed effectively with the right understanding and tools. Recognising the causes of conflict, understanding the brain’s response, identifying stress signs, and employing de-escalation techniques are crucial steps in creating a safer and more harmonious work environment. By fostering clear communication, empathy, and collaboration, we can navigate conflicts constructively, ensuring the well-being of all employees.

To find out how Red Snapper Learning can support your professional development goals or to inquire about our training, contact our Head of Practice at dipesh.mistry@rsg.ltd | 0203 119 3373.