Some people are arseholes with a capital R and cause friction, arguments and problems where ever they go, even at work.


Conflict at work is horrible. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I’ve never been any good dealing with it.

When it happens I panic on the inside, blush on the outside and loose the ability to think quickly or articulate myself on the spot. A little fart comes out sometimes too. I often end up dwelling on it for some time afterwards and replay it over and over again in my mind. The whole thing is uncomfortable.

Floating along in an optimistic bubble of belief that no-one is going to disagree, challenge, or berate you is dysfunctional.

Looking back retrospectively I think being unprepared is the route cause of my fear.

At work, wherever possible I like to be prepared and have a pre-considered response to questions that may come up. But not having thought about or prepared for being challenged leads to panic when it happens. And naturally it’s going to happen at some point.

In order to prepare myself to deal with conflict situations better in the future here’s 3 stock responses that I’ve decided to use. So when conflict arises, I can focus on making a quick choice about which one is appropriate, rather than focusing on the discomfort I’m feeling.

They are deliberately short and direct to avoid ambiguity, and to be easy to remember.

They may not always be appropriate, and may not always have the desired impact, but just having these in my back pocket makes me feel better prepared for conflict, should it arise. I want to share them in the hope they may be of some benefit. Feel free to try them.

Option 1 : Park and come back later

“I’d like to talk about this more, but not now. Let’s pick this up later*.”

This gives you some space to breathe and collect your thoughts. It also gives you some control over when and where the re-match continues.

*Specify ‘later’ as quickly as you can.

Option 2: Seek clarity / Find the route cause

“I’d like to understand your question / concern / assumptions better, can we explore this further?”

Although you may find yourself a target, don’t assume you’re the cause of the upset. If you have the confidence, take time to be curious to really understand where it’s coming from. We are all humans and often carry emotion and feeling with us for some time before letting it out. It may simply be bad timing that you are getting the brunt of someone’s upset.

Option 3. Shut it down

“This is not something I’m prepared to discuss.”

If it’s not relevant, appropriate or professional shut it down and don’t explain or apologise for this. They will know they overstepped the mark.

While we’re at it, here’s 3 things you should definitely not to do in a conflict situation.

Not an option: Crying 

Trust me, it happens (but I’d had a particularly challenging day).

Not an option: Lashing out

If you respond with harsh words, become defensive and/or judgemental then the problem will only magnify.

Not an option: Doing nothing

Conflict situations arise for a plethora of reasons, but there must be a reason. Not reacting at all is not going to make it go away. The situation needs to be dealt with either now or later, or it needs to be closed. Hoping it will go away on it’s own is not a good strategy. Action beats inaction every time.

Good luck.

Don’t let the bastards drag you down



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  1. Ola,

    Like the idea of having some stock answers to prevent a stituation going south, however I challenge the sense of avoiding conflict. Healthy debate and conflict is critical to the success of a team and a company. Creating the space and trust to have this conflict requires conscious effort to create, it’s not easy or quick. If we hire someone we should value their ideas and opinions regardless of how different they are. I hold that we can we become super comfortable with conflict and see it’s value even in the audience of an arsehole.

    1. Author

      I love the idea of creating an environment where conflict is welcome and everyone is comfortable with it. It can be done for sure, with a deliberate intention, a lot of hard work and boundaries clearly defined, but unfortunately it’s not something you see very often.

      Agree that conflict is not something to avoid, it’s something to expect and to find a comfortable way of dealing with it. Some people find that easier than others…

  2. Hi ,

    Have you considered exploring your emotions during conflict? That uneasy feeling, what do you think it is telling you?

    Also, how do you know it is a conflict situation? How do you define conflict? Is it that uncomfortable feeling that lets you know?

    As you can see, tying “conflict” to your emotions makes the whole thing very subjective. The other person could for instance just be asking an honest question, that “feeling” raises its head and of we go with our stock answers 🙂

    We choose our feelings, or more accurately our past experiences and habitual responses determine our feelings.

    Learning to hold our views lightly leaves us open to questioning by others. Agyris advocates balancing advocacy with inquiry. So if some one holds an alternative view to your own that is an ideal time to switch modes from advocacy to inquiry, your 2nd stock response 🙂

    Conflict and “constructive tension” are necessary for discovery and learning. Organization just can’t learn without them, yet we are socialize to avoid conflict at all costs.

    Exploring the reasons why reveals a much deeper dysfunction I think. The idea that we must have all the answers and should avoid being shown up in front of others at all costs. The idea that it isn’t safe to be wrong. This is a much bigger dysfunction I think. Something to consider for next week 🙂

    1. Author

      Some excellent points raised.

      I agree that it is subjective, what one person calls conflict another calls healthy debate and may actually enjoy it.

      I also agree that it’s important for discovery and learning, although to get to that point you need to be comfortable .

  3. Agree. You need to be comfortable. Exploring the discomfort is useful I think. Where does it come from? Was it a mother that would chastise you whenever you made a mistake or got something wrong? Or a school system where the smart kids are held in high esteem and the rest ignored? Or a workplace where the wolves begin to circle the moment you show any signs of weakness or vulnerability?

    Complicated and different for each individual. You can learn from the emotion. Some one say’s something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can stop and explore the feeling. Once you recognise the feeling, you can choose not to react habitually. You can choose to use your intellect to assess their possible motives. Showing you up and making you look bad is often only one of a number of possibilities 🙂

    Chances are you haven’t enough information to decide. So the logical thing is to gain more information by asking questions.

    The key is to suspend your habitual response (easy to say, but hard to do :)), and apply your intellect.

    If you manage to do it though, you may find that what felt like conflict sets you out on a new journey of learning and discovery. Or you may discover that your original emotion/feeling was right. The other person is just an arsehole 🙂

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