How to Address Conflict with Coworkers

Workplace culture and morale can have an enormous impact on job satisfaction. Employees who feel close and connected to each other are more likely to enjoy their jobs and to be productive during the workday.

Conflict with coworkers, whether professional or personal, can be challenging to address because—unlike with friends or family members—you don’t get to decide whether or not you interact with coworkers. For better or worse, you’re stuck with your coworkers, so ignoring conflict or addressing it indirectly can sometimes feel safer than direct confrontation.

If you’re noticing a particular pattern of tension or disagreement with a coworker, here are five steps to take to address it.

  1. Calm your nervous system. You should never try to address conflict with a coworker when you are actively feeling activated or triggered. Take time to calm down, talk to a third party, or practice self care before addressing the conflict.
  2. Write down your boundaries and needs. Boundaries are a critical part of healthy work relationships. If you have clearly defined a limit or have not consented to a certain experience, anger can be a signal that someone is violating that boundary. Make a list of which boundaries this coworker has violated or which needs could be better met in the relationship.
  3. Practice self compassion. Once you have identified your boundaries and needs, empathize with the part of yourself that is upset and show yourself appreciation for taking the time to sit with difficult emotions.
  4. Get curious. It is difficult to be upset and curious at the same time. If you find yourself angry at a coworker, try getting curious about their situation and what their world is like. See if you can find some empathy for them in the process.
  5. Address the issue directly. Explain your feelings and boundaries to your coworker using “I statements” and specific examples. Stay away from blaming them, as this could cause them to become defensive. It might be helpful to have a third party moderate or sit in on the conversation.