Author Profile Picture


Impact Factory


Read more from joellengrzyb

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Conflict at Work


There are different types of conflict at work.  There’s the Personality Clash type of conflict – you just don’t get on with everyone; there’s one particular person who rubs you up the wrong way and inevitably you have the occasional quarrel and even a blow-out every once in a while.

Another type of conflict is when you fundamentally disagree with what another person is doing and you might call that a Values Clash.  

There’s conflict when stress levels get high and people have a go at each other to let off steam.

For this blog, what I’m really interested in is a different kind of conflict.  This is the conflict that happens when one or more people simply aren’t assertive.

Here’s a scenario we have seen a lot more than once:

Ms Smith asks Mr Jones to do something.  Mr Jones is very busy but doesn’t say anything and agrees to do the extra work.  Ms Smith isn’t aware there’s a problem.

Then Mr Brown comes along and asks Mr Jones if he could attend an unexpected meeting.  Mr Jones doesn’t say anything about his increasingly heavy workload and agrees to come to the meeting.  Mr Brown isn’t aware there’s a problem.

Mr Jones goes to the meeting but doesn’t contribute much because his mind is on all the work piling up and Mr Brown gets a bit annoyed because he wanted Mr Jones there for his input.

Ms Smith is wondering where her work is and when she finally spots Mr Jones asks him why he hasn’t finished what she asked him to do.  Mr Jones still doesn’t say anything other than to apologise and say he’ll get right on it.

Now poor Mr Jones is feeling doubly stressed because he knows he didn’t do well in the meeting, Ms Smith is giving him a hard time and he has his own work that needs attending.  He starts to seethe.  “Why can’t people see how busy I am?”

A short while later another colleague comes by and grabs the stapler off Mr Jones desk breezily saying, “You don’t mind if I borrow this…?”

And that’s the last straw!  

Version One:  Mr Jones goes apoplectic, “I do mind; you’ll take it and I’ll never see it again. Why don’t you get one of your own?  Why do you always have to come and take my things?”

Version Two:  Mr Jones doesn’t say anything, maybe gives a little nod, but inside he’s now inflamed and raging.  “Are they all blind?  All they think about is themselves and what they need.  No one ever thinks about what I might need!”

Mr Jones lack of assertiveness right at the start created this negative spiral of frustration.  If he had been able to tell Ms Smith that he’d be able to help her out later as he had other priorities; if he’s been able to tell Mr Brown that if he attended the meeting then that would put him back and he might need additional support to get his own work done…if, if, if.

Of course, if he could have done that, he would have; unassertive people know what they ‘should’ do but find the journey from what’s in their heads to what comes out of their mouths is usually full of diversions and dead ends.

The problem is that lack of assertiveness will inevitably lead to conflict and often that conflict is a often mystery to the other people involved.  Mr Jones gets a reputation for being moody or difficult or uncooperative, none of which is completely accurate.  

The key problem here is that by not being more assertive, Mr Jones creates a false impression of himself, he feels aggrieved and hard done by.  ,/p>

Also, there’s nothing wrong with conflict if it ends in resolution.  Conflict that’s created through unassertive behaviour rarely achieves resolution.

The good thing about all of this is that becoming more assertive isn’t as difficult as it may seem to those who suffer from it.  It usually takes support – doing an Assertiveness course (we run brilliant ones by the way), reading some good, accessible books, watching some TED Talks and practising, practising, practising.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Author Profile Picture


Read more from joellengrzyb

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!