How To Address Workplace Conflicts Without Losing Talent Or Trust

We all know that conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. But what happens when leaders do not manage conflict when it occurs? CPP Inc., in their Global Human Capital Report from July 2008, revealed that conflict costs employers millions of dollars every year. Avoiding conflict not only increases personal stress levels but decrease employee engagement, and leaders who do not address conflict will lose good talent in search of a healthier work environment.

When working with my clients to determine whether conflict is an issue for their businesses, the first order is to determine their style of addressing conflict. This gives us an understanding of how assertive they are during challenges, which is paramount to resolving the issues before they get out of hand. I have my clients self-assess using the Thoman-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). The graph covers five different styles of addressing conflict:

1. Competing
2. Collaborating
3. Compromising
4. Avoiding
5. Accommodating

The fourth style, “avoiding,” gets in the way of good conflict resolution since it doesn’t allow for collaboration. Several of my CEOs avoid confrontation entirely and are at a loss for how to bring about a different outcome with their employee. There are two downsides to avoiding confrontation: The CEO’s stress goes up, and the individual who needs to be confronted is deprived of the opportunity to improve his or her performance and skills.

There are healthy ways to address challenges where you are proactive and assert yourself without coming off as aggressive, however. I teach my clients a firm and caring style of confrontation. From there, I have my clients follow the template below, which you can adapt to various situations to overcome conflict in your own workplace.

Ensure Effective Listening

First, it’s important to be honest and respectful when communicating. We often assume that our message has been conveyed, but individuals who are being confronted may get defensive and not hear or understand us correctly. Ask for clarification to avoid further conflict. When we ask the person to reflect back on what they heard, we can learn if they heard us correctly or not, and if so, we can move forward to the next step.

Ask For What You Want

One aspect of being assertive is asking for the end result during the meeting. Once again, it’s useful to have the individual reflect back the outcome to ensure you’re both on the same page. This step can be omitted when you want the individual to take on more responsibility and accountability which leads to the third step.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

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  1. When there are two or more people, there will be conflict. There are three kinds of conflict you run into.

    1. Unintentional – This is where someone does or says something that was unintentionally taken the wrong way. These are common and typical.

    2. Intentional – This is where someone constantly tries to find your hot button, using condescending comments and criticisms. This is also known as bullying.

    3. Covert – This is where someone uses manipulation tactics to make you and other members of your team fail. This is also known as covert intimidation.

    When resolving conflicts, we must know their cause first. Then we’ll know how to address them.

    Also, conflict from (1), when managed can be very healthy for creativity and debate. Conflict from (2) and (3) also can be used in a positive way too. Regretfully those really good at (2) and (3) tend to use them in pure self-interest.

    • Misinterpretation and miscommunications are often the culprit for unintentional conflict. Learning better communications skills by increasing listening skills can minimize this type of conflict. When there is intent to cause friction, it wastes everyone’s time and does not bring any value. Thank you for engaging in this topic, Chris. Your comments always deepen the conversation.

  2. If the talented person is creating conflict on a regular basis, sometimes the cost of retaining that talent becomes too high.

    Good article on managing conflict. But in the final analysis, the manager/leader shouldn’t be spending a great deal of time doing that. Perhaps eliminating the person/persons creating the conflict is the smarter solution.

    • That is very true, Ken. Sometimes when the trouble maker is eliminated then conflicts naturally subside. However, with that said, it is sometimes a difficult decision to make and learning these tools and teaching them to the culprit might be a solution. Thank you for engaging here, it is greatly appreciated.