Are you the problem when conflict arises in the workplace?

bad leadership

We’ve all been there. It has been a long week, or even a long month and you feel it’s been made even longer and more tiresome by certain members of your team. Perhaps if it had not been such a long month, you might have found a way to be more diplomatic, but before you know it – you’ve opened your mouth and said that ‘thing’ that you have wanted to say for ages but have been keeping buttoned up. Immediately you feel better, but it’s not long afterwards that you start to feel worse. What was initially a small underlying tension, has just been blown up into something far more damaging.

It’s easy to point the finger in these kinds of scenarios and say that he or she deserved it because of ‘xyz’, but have you ever taken the time to ask if your own behavior is a contributing factor when things get out of hand? If not, you might be in trouble. A Harvard Business Review article published last year found that when leaders were less self-aware, their teams ‘made worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management’. In this persuasive dataset, taken from research within a Fortune 100 company – entire teams were negatively affected by their leaders’ lack of self-awareness. It is also worth noting that if you feel that this is not relevant to you, the statistics are not in your favour. Research suggests people tend to only possess moderate self-awareness and that this is often weaker in professional contexts.

As leaders, we can’t avoid making mistakes, but we can work on some simple and dynamic methods to improve self-awareness, and in doing so, improve work-place productivity, harmony and engagement.

Consider utilising evaluation tools that will help you measure self-awareness

Whilst there is debate about the efficacy of the current means of evaluating self-awareness such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in a management context, many companies are increasingly trying to implement systematic evaluations that compare how people see themselves with how others in the workplace might see them. It’s not a substitute for having meaningful conversations with your team but it can bring to light some personality traits which you may find surprising.

Don’t confuse self-awareness with self-introspection

Whilst self-introspection can be a useful mechanism for improved self-awareness, you also need to find out how others view you. In addition to considering formal evaluation tools, talk to members of your team, from the highest to the most junior. Ask them, in a way that will make them feel comfortable, how they see you as a leader and what they think you could improve on? Have you ever made them feel under-valued? You might be surprised by their insights, not only by what they say, but also by what they don’t say. The absence of certain feedback can be just as powerful as the feedback itself.

Build reflective practice into your staff training and make sure you participate

Reflective practice can be shaped to best fit your team’s needs. It might be something as simple as asking people to reflect proactively on a recent mistake or conflict in the team. Alternatively – you could ask individuals to explore a personal characteristic that could be holding them back. Create a space that feels safe – no blame or stigma attached.

Keep a written record of your decision-making and come back to it three months later

Some mindfulness experts suggest keeping a daily diary, but let’s face it, it’s not for everyone. Instead, consider recording your more important strategic decisions and what you predict the outcomes will be, including any human resources implications. Come back to your records three months later, and reflect on how accurate your predictions were. Consider any patterns that emerge in these records, and reflect on what they might suggest about your operational decision-making.

Learn to be observant of how others behave around you

You might feel that you are the most approachable leader since the dawn of time, but take time to notice and appreciate how others behave around you. The Hewlett Packard founders made the MBWA (Management by Walking Around) approach popular but as well as engaging in active listening; consider your team’s body language, and facial expressions during your interactions. If they look terrified, despondent, or even just bored to tears, chances are that it might be something to do with your leadership style.

It’s important to record and reflect on your findings and then open dialogue with yourself and with others on what you could do differently. Perhaps deceptively, self-awareness is less about notions of self, and more about relationships than we often give it credit for.


If you have enjoyed this post – you might want to check out some of my other articles in this blog. My name is Patrick Moulsdale and I work with leaders and groups to raise consciousness, develop teams and resolve conflict. To learn more about how I can work with your organisation, please contact me through the form at the top of this page.

The invisible forces that shape the behaviour of your organisation

group dynamics

You’re probably sitting comfortably in your office at the moment, surrounded by busy colleagues and tasked with a thousand things to complete before you head out of the office for the day – but can you remember your first day in the role?

For most of us, it was a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Excitement with the opportunity that lay ahead, the endless possibilities and the journey into the unknown. Nervousness with your new surroundings, new ways of doing things and new people. Would you fit in, would your new colleagues like you and would this be the role where you could finally spread your wings and show your true potential?

These are common thoughts… in fact they’re more common than you might think. Journey all the way back to the late 1950’s and you’ll find a leading American psychologist called William Shutz who developed a theory around just this. He suggested that within a group, each individual has three core needs that they want the group to meet:

  • The need for inclusion – The key question for each member is where and how do I fit into this team?
  • The need for control – The key question here is how much influence can I exercise in this group and how much personal autonomy do I have to give up to be part of this group?
  • The need for affection/openness. Whereas ‘Inclusion’ is about the decision to belong or not, the ‘affection’ phase is about building emotional ties and deciding on the degree of closeness within the team. This is referred to as ‘intimacy’ or ‘norming’ in other models

So when you joined your new team, it’s highly likely that your nervousness was based around these three core needs. More than that, your behaviour within the group – even now is unconsciously motivated by your desire to meet these needs. But perhaps more interesting still, is that your entrance into the group will have caused the group dynamics to change as people’s own needs adjusted to the new person.

There’s no need to feel bad though. The reality is, that when a group is viewed as a whole – it is always in a state of flux. As well as the personnel changes that occur within a group, our individual needs change over time… different things become important, work can take a more front facing or background role in our lives and our values might also change as we experience more of what life has to offer us. All of these will have an impact on the dynamics of a group and the larger the group, the more complex the dynamics become.

What’s important as leaders, is to be aware that we can influence the way a team or group behaves, if we recognise the needs that motivate individuals. In doing this, we’re able to lessen the energy and the time that individuals devote to negative thoughts and conflict situations and the result of this is a happy and high performing team, department and even organisation.

My name is Patrick Moulsdale. I am a (group) conflict management expert and professional mediator with over 15 years’ experience. If you are experiencing the effects of conflict within your organisation, contact me today through the contacts page on my website.

Is your team affected by this morale sapping bug?

Conflict in the workplace

The first time you noticed something unusual was about 2 months ago. You came out of your office and your team were unusually quiet… staring intently at the screens, madly pressing away on their keyboards or clicking at a mouse. One team member seems to be strutting around the office nervously making jokes and trying to get people’s attention and another team member was missing, presumably in the loo or taking a coffee break… it was a bit odd, but you didn’t think too much of it and went back inside your office to continue working.

In the days and weeks afterwards, the office banter lessened. People started coming in at one minute to nine, seemingly unhappy to be at work and then leaving as soon as the clock chimed five. At times, you’d see a small huddle of people around someone’s desk and then whole groups of people leaving the office to lunch together leaving just one or two behind. Pretty soon sales targets were being missed, project schedules were getting delayed, people were calling in sick and a new phrase had started appearing in the office… “sorry – its not my job”.

Conflicts are an inevitable part of working life, but when left unmanaged – they have the capacity to tear teams and even entire organisations apart. What might start off as a spat between two individuals can quickly escalate into an unsavoury popularity contest forcing unwitting team members to take sides and so it’s important as a leader, to identify and mediate the conflict at the earliest opportunity.

But how do you go about mediating a venomous and bitter conflict? How can you bring about a successful conclusion when both parties regard the opposing one as being in the wrong, deceitful or just plain mad?

Here are a few simple pointers to help:

  1. Speak to the individuals involved and make sure they feel their feelings and needs are acknowledged and understood.
  2. Help them understand that conflict is a circular dynamic — to which both parties contribute. By understanding their own role in the conflict and the power they have to break the cycle of conflict, it can help to avoid further incidents in the future.
  3. Bring the ‘combatants’ together, to talk through their feelings and needs and also to explore why they took the path they did
  4. Look beyond the conflict at the qualities and the value each person brings to the bigger picture.

Conflicts are often born (or at least heavily fuelled) by incorrect assumptions. Perhaps something said innocently, that has been taken the wrong way or a team member taking action, which another person feels is devious or deliberately damaging to them. In no time at all, what may have been a minor initial incident (or not even an incident at all) becomes distorted beyond all recognition as emotions go into overdrive.

But it doesn’t always have to be like this. The road to conflict resolution requires self-awareness and empathy from all parties – and if as leaders, we instill these values within the very culture of our organisations – we stand a very good chance of conflict becoming a far less significant part of everyday office life.

How do you deal with conflict as a leader?

leadership conflict approach

A unique combination of nature, nurture and life experiences means that every one of us sees the world from a different perspective. Not only do we form different opinions about the world around us, but we also react to events and the circumstances that surround us differently. The result of this, particularly in stressful situations or when the stakes are high… is conflict.

Our working environment can and often is the perfect breeding ground for conflict to take hold. An ever more competitive environment, tighter deadlines, higher targets, smaller budgets and opposing departmental objectives are some of the many sparks that can ignite the ‘conflict flame’. So with conflict being such an inevitable part of working life, it’s important as a leader to recognise your role in it and your responsibilities to manage and resolve it.

Long-time experts in the field of conflict management – Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann found that the way we deal with conflict can be determined by measuring our assertiveness against our willingness to cooperate. From here they came up with 5 conflict management styles, each with their own positive and negative attributes. As a leader, can you recognise your approach to conflict in one of the conflict management styles listed below?

Conflict Styles


Assertive and uncooperative, this person pursues his/her own concerns at the expense of others. If you fall into this category, you’ll do everything in your power to win whether it’s pulling rank, shouting the loudest, intimidating your competition or imposing marshal law. A competing person will stand up for his or her rights and vigorously defend a position which he or she believes to be correct.


Unassertive and cooperative, this person is the complete opposite of the above. When accommodating, the individual neglects his or her own concerns to satisfy the concerns of other people. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.


Unassertive and uncooperative. This person neither pursues his or her own concerns nor those of other individuals. They would rather not deal with the conflict at all. An ‘avoiding’ person is likely to diplomatically sidestep issues, postponing them to a better time, or simply withdraw completely from a threatening situation.


Both assertive and cooperative, this person is the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborators attempt to work with others to find a solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the opposing parties. Collaborating between two people might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.


Moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. This person wants to find a mutually acceptable solution for both sides. The challenge with this is that neither of the opposing sides get what they want and compromising across the board could mean compromising on the success of a project in its entirety.

Did you recognise yourself from the five options above?

Conflict can be crippling for any organisation and because we all react differently to it, learning how to manage conflict proactively and mediate it when it arises, is hugely important. As a conflict management expert and professional mediator with over 15 years’ experience, I can help your organisation to recognise the symptoms of conflict and to transform conflict from a source of pain to an engine for communication, understanding and productivity.

For more information, you can contact me directly through the form at the top of this page.