Conflict is a normal, natural, to-be-expected, ordinary part of work life. What is not normal is the person who deliberately pushes other people around, with or without a reason. It can be a co-worker or a person in authority, but whatever his or her position, we’re talking about the individual who enjoys badgering, barging in, browbeating, belittling, bullying. In fact, it’s estimated that about 20% of workplaces include this type of personality.

If you work in a war zone, you can win small and big battles by employing some of these techniques we’re about to share. You can learn to jump out of the cauldron of fear the bully has bubbling. For your own safety, security, and peace of mind, you must do something. Remaining in the cauldron of negativity will surely lead to physical and/or mental problems.

The opposite of conflict is harmony. Use these ideas and keep working until that harmony is achieved. The confrontation need not be hostile. You can simply ask to meet with the individual. Suggest a public place, such as a corner of the cafeteria, so angry words are less likely to be shouted.

1. Stand up, stand tall, and ultimately you’ll stand out as someone who cannot be bullied. The confrontation need not be hostile. You can simply ask to meet with the individual. Suggest a public place, such as a corner of the cafeteria, so angry words are less likely to be shouted.

Try to avoid an adversarial stance. Instead of “you” words, employ “we” words. For example, “There seems to be some ‘bad blood’ between us. I don’t know what’s causing it but I’d like to discuss how we can put an end to it.

2. Discuss the situation with several people outside the organization and elicit their feedback. Try out all the possible solutions you hear until you find one that works.

3. If you don’t have a mentor, find one and discuss the problem with him or her.If you already have one, let the mentor’s experience guide you in solving this problem.

4. Keep a journal of the instances when you feel you’ve been treated less than respectfully. There are numerous situations in which this journal may prove to be very valuable to you.

5. You can ignore the individual. Maintain a courteous, professional relationship but, basically, try to stay out of his or her way. Don’t let this toxic personality poison your outlook or your enjoyment of your job.

6. Seek e-help.
While you’ll no doubt find sources of your own, try visiting the web site geared for conflict-copers: www.bullybusters, where, for example, you’ll find strategies successfully employed by those who have survived conflict-ridden situations. Of course, you can also find such help in books, newspapers, and magazines.

7. You know there’s strength in numbers. If a group of you meet with the individual, it might help convince him or her of the severity of the problem.

8. One seldom-used weapon in the war on conflict is the sharing of a personal experience. Real-life anecdotes can be used to establish trust between two parties and thus, indirectly, lesson the likelihood of acerbic outbreaks. To illustrate, research by Martin and Powers (“Organizational Stories: More Vivid and Persuasive than Quantitative Date.” In B. M. Staw (ed.) Psychological Foundations of Organizational Behavior. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1982, pp. 161-168) found story-related content more believable than statistics or policy statements regarding a company’s commitment to avoiding layoffs.

Apart from credibility, anecdotes help others understand the commonality that binds us. In this way as well, relationships can be made more harmonious.

Replay in your head a workplace conflict situation you’ve been part of or one you’ve heard about or one that you can foresee occurring. Outline the basic stages–what words prompted the conflict, what words accelerated or defused it, what resolution, if any, was achieved.

Now, put the conflict scenario aside. Draw a continuum representing the decades of your life. What one event (sad, funny, frightening, surprising) stands out in your head from each decade? Embellish the details surrounding it. Then weave the anecdote into the conflict scenario so that it could be used to lessen the tensions surrounding the issue.

9. In looking for right words, realize you have three choices when it comes to negative workplace situations. You can make them better. You can make them worse. You can leave them as they are. Choosing to improve them is better for your health.
It’s a big world. Someone out there has experienced a situation similar to yours…and has survived it. Search online at least once a week for suggestions that will ease the workplace tension.

10. Another technique involves attitudes. It’s hard to go a week without encountering someone–inside or outside the workplace–with an attitude so bad you just want to run the other way. And you can. Or, you can gather your courage and speak to the person so that you can F.E.A.R.-less in the future.


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].