How can I manage conflict at work?

Just like in your life outside of work, you might encounter people at work who upset you or behave in ways that cause you serious problems.

How can I manage difficult relationships?

Having a difficult relationship with your co-workers can be stressful, and makes work harder to manage. Here are some first steps for managing difficult relationships:

  • Address your concerns. If a co-worker says or does something that you find upsetting or offensive, arrange to speak with them in private about this. Calmly explain the situation and your feelings. If it happens again, or you don’t feel you can talk to your co-worker, discuss your concerns with your manager. If you think you’re being bullied, see our information below.
  • Try not to get drawn into arguments. You won’t always agree with your colleagues. But getting your point across in a diplomatic way can avoid unhelpful disagreements. You may find it helpful to use phrases such as, “I appreciate your point of view, but I don’t see it that way.”
  • Avoid participating in office gossip. People often use gossip as a way of bonding. But it can put strain on relationships and cause conflict, so it can be a good idea to avoid getting involved.
  • Find a common ground. You won’t always have lots in common with each co-worker. But finding something that you both like, such as a sports team, TV programme or hobby, can give you something positive to talk about and improve your relationship.
  • Keep a professional distance. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to have good personal relationships with all your colleagues, so if you do have to work with someone you don’t get on with, it’s helpful to keep focused on work and stay professional.

What if my manager is the problem?

Having a good relationship with your manager can help you feel supported and involved in your role. However, a difficult relationship might make your working life feel harder. You could:

  • Think about your job description, and what you understand your role to be. Is your manager making unreasonable requests or being unclear about what they expect?
  • Communicate your concerns. Request a 1:1 meeting with your manager to discuss how you feel and what you would find helpful from them. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting with your manager alone, request to bring a colleague with you, or record your meetings.
  • Speak to another manager. If you don’t feel able to talk to your manager, ask to meet with another manager or someone from HR. Try to provide examples of difficult behaviour and discuss what you would like to change.

What if I’m being bullied?

If you’re being bullied by at work, it can be difficult to know what to do. Sometimes bullying may be obvious, but sometimes it can be harder to identify. Bullying can have a significant impact on your mental health, but remember: you don’t have to put up with it.

 “When I was bullied at work I told someone how I felt and what was happening.”

If you experience bullying at work, you can:

  • Find out if your employer has a policy on bullying and what their grievance procedure is. The policy should outline whether a behaviour is acceptable and how to address the problem.
  • Discuss the problem with someone you feel comfortable with, such as your manager or the human resources department.
  • Resolve the issue informally where possible. With the support of a manager or colleague, if you feel able to, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you.
  • Raise a formal complaint if you still do not feel the situation is improving. You may be able to do this through formal procedures in your workplace.

See Useful contacts at the end of this guide.

If the situation isn’t improving, or you do not feel like you can take action, you may decide that leaving your job is the best option for your mental health. If you feel forced to leave your job because of bullying, contact a solicitor specialising in employment law for advice about your rights.

“I have [been bullied] in the past. I took it to the appropriate person. Unfortunately for me they didn’t care and didn’t take it seriously. I left that place immediately.”

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