Managing Interpersonal Conflict

by May 10, 2022

From our episode Managing Interpersonal Conflict with Tammy Dunnett


We’ve all been in conflict. Every single person has been in conflict. If we could sum it up, what are some of the causes of it?

The answer is interpersonal. There’s something that’s disconnected, a misalignment of values, beliefs, or expectations, and then from that, we don’t talk about it in ways that are kind and caring. Then, there are two models in the workplace that are often used:

    1. Medical Model– When you feel stressed and strained, you can go to your doctor and get some medications. You can even take stress leave and go talk to a counselor.
    2. Organizational Approach– That is when you’re not being a good employee. So, you can take a class on how to write an email or on how to talk with supervisors.

Those two models don’t actually address the problem. Interpersonal problems require interpersonal solutions.


Organizations often go get some training for you and that will solve it. But training’s not a solution. It’s part of a solution, but it’s all knowledge transfer. So, unless the organization is making changes to support that training, what’s being learned is not necessarily useful.

Here are the pillars that we could use in managing interpersonal conflict:


People tend to think it’s always about shoulders up, heads up. Go in there, tell them what you think, and you know how you claim your face, but that’s not always what confidence looks like. Confidence is so vast. It depends on who you’re with and what the context is. Sometimes it’s about being silent and not saying the things that you want to say but that you need to say. Confidence isn’t always about presence, like in terms of how people think about it. When someone feels like they’re being victimized or they’re not being heard, that’s what they imagine confidence has to be.


We tend to be in a reactive mode, and we think that’s what confidence looks like. You have to be very courageous to come in and speak what you have to speak. Encouragement is part of it, but courage comes from knowing who you are, what you need, what you want to be treated like and being able to articulate that, so that gets into the conversation. But before we get into the conversation, we have to be curious, and this is often where I find most conflicts can be resolved quickly.


Working as a team not only boosts productivity, but it also builds positive employee connections. Employees who work together are often more successful and efficient than those who try to manage the same projects on their own. Collaboration with peers that goes well can boost your drive and level of involvement at work. Additionally, brainstorming and sharing ideas are beneficial in discovering unique solutions to challenging problems. There are many different methods to interact effectively at work, and the skills and tactics you use can help you be more efficient and successful.


It is where people feel a lot of trepidation. They don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to say it. Maybe they tried before but nobody listened or nothing changed. We become apathetic in these environments and with conversations about being continually present to your values and continually communicating them because once you let that boundary relax once and you don’t say anything, it is harder to recover and to close that gap than if you just address it first.

People are usually good in one or two of those areas, but they’re lacking in the other. 

For example, a person is good with confidence and thought he was really good with conversations because he was capable of talking, sharing his values, boundaries, and how he wanted to be treated, but he really lacked in the curiosity section. He lacked collaboration because it was his way or no way. So, what he finds when he works with people is that there are generally some really good strengths and some areas to work on.


We all have a hard time giving feedback. It’s not back to your statement. We don’t learn communication skills. We just kind of communicate and it’s like, I always say, it’s like breathing. We just kind of do it and assume it’s working. You don’t notice communication until it’s not working and you’re in conflict or avoiding someone or whatever it is. So, we do have to get better at giving feedback, and we all have to do that.


We should focus a little more on our communication and, for managers, to focus on creating a safe space and coaching versus bullying and all of that.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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