Walking Toward Conflict: Turning Difficult Personalities Into Pussycats

This week on In Process, we’re approaching something we all seem to try to tiptoe around: conflict in the workplace. Our hosts Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon of Trusted Counsel are joined by Anne McSorley and Kate Bothwell-Wendel of Workbest Consulting, an Atlanta-based firm that helps companies examine their cultural climate, management and communication style to identify, neutralize and prevent conflicts in the workplace. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of work in the conflict management business, but McSorley kicks off the conversation by explaining that conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be so scary.

“[Conflict is] anything that requires change,” says McSorley. “Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

The conflict that can negatively affect the workplace is generally “disruptive conflict,” and signs of this kind of issue range from a slipping employee retention rate to stalling productivity. 

“Conflict is a part of life,” says Bothwell-Wendel, who notes that companies don’t need to wait until things get bad to call in an expert. “We tend to get called in when there are… painful situations going on in the workplace. Folks tend to wait until the pain is really severe before they elect to do something.”

That negative effect can find its root in anything ranging from an isolated incident to a systemic problem within a company. Everyone—from C-level executives to managers to entry-level employees—can be given the tools to help make the office a more hospitable place, even if it seems like the conflict revolves around a single abusive leader or difficult coworker.

“When you have an abusive person, a lot of times they’re full of fear and they’re full of insecurities,” says Bothwell-Wendel. In some cases, an employee can manage his or her superior’s anxiety with a simple comment—in fact, on the show, Bothwell-Wendel and McSorley recall a time that an employee neutralized an overbearing leader by simply “walking towards the conflict and opening his mouth.”

Stream the conversation below for more insight into how your business can steer of disputes that never needed to be. No time to listen now? Save In Process for your long commute or evening run. Click here to subscribe to In Process on iTunes, where you can listen from the “Podcasts” app on your phone any time.