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How Do You Deal with Conflict at Work?
by Tag and Catherine Goulet

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How Do You Deal with Conflict at Work?
Published with permission from FabJob.

Have you ever had a conflict at work?

If you answered "no," you probably either work in a monastery where everyone has taken a vow of silence, or you have only recently joined the workforce.

Virtually everyone will experience conflict with someone at work, whether it's with a co-worker, customer, supplier, or even the boss.

That's because conflict is inevitable. If you spend enough time interacting with other people, eventually your wants, needs, or ideas are bound to be contrary to those of another person. For example you have a conflict situation ...

  • ...if both you and a co-worker want the same day off but only one of you can have it.
  • ...if you need supplies delivered today but your supplier can't get them to you until next week.
  • ...if you want a customer to buy a product for a particular price but they want a discount.
  • ...if you want a raise but your boss needs to cut costs in your department.

Conflict itself isn't a problem. Problems result from the way people handle conflicts.

David W. Johnson, author of Human Relations and Your Career, identifies five types of conflict resolution styles. Notice which of the following conflict styles is the one you typically use, and which ones are used by people you have conflicts with.

The Turtle

Turtles deal with conflict by avoiding it. If they can physically leave the situation, they will. If they can't leave, they will tune out or refuse to talk about it. This typically results in a lose-lose scenario. The turtle doesn't get what they want, and the person they have the conflict with doesn't get the problem resolved. However, this can be a useful way to deal with conflict when the issue is minor.

The Teddy Bear

Teddy bears deal with conflict by giving in. Because they want to be liked and to maintain the relationship, a teddy bear lets the other person have their way. As a result, the teddy bear doesn't get what he or she wants, and "loses" while the other person "wins."

This can be a useful way of dealing with conflict on occasion. In relationships, couples will often take turns being the teddy bear. For example "I'll see the chick flick with you this week if you'll come to the action adventure movie with me next week." However, someone who always gives in at work may one day feel they have had enough and announce "I quit."

The Shark

Sharks deal with conflict by going on the attack. Their purpose in a conflict is to satisfy their own needs by any means possible. Their behavior is aggressive and they may use verbal attacks or manipulation. To a shark, the desired outcome in a conflict is "I win, you lose" or "I win, I don't care what happens to you."

If you are ever in a conflict with a shark, you'll know it. After all, what happens in nature when a shark meets a turtle? While it sounds like an unethical way of dealing with conflict, there are situations where being a shark may be appropriate. For example, if you are in an emergency situation or if you are in a conflict with a shark, you might respond like a shark yourself.

The Fox

Foxes deal with conflict by trying to find a compromise solution. Their aim is to resolve the conflict with both parties feeling they are getting at least some of what they want. While this may seem like a win-win way of dealing with conflict, in fact there is also a lose-lose element to it as both parties typically have to give something up.

This a useful way of dealing with conflict when a quick solution is needed, with at least a partial win for both parties. For example, in the situation where you and your co-worker both want the same day off, a compromise might be for one of you to take the morning off and work the afternoon, while the other takes the afternoon off and works the morning.

The Owl

According to Johnson, the wisest way of dealing with most conflicts is to adopt the behavior of the owl. Owls deal with conflict by collaborating. This means both parties work together with the aim of coming up with a mutually satisfying solution. The aim is to have a win-win.

While it's the most desirable outcome, the reality is that it can take time to reach a win-win solution, and you probably don't want to spend hours trying to reach agreement about minor matters such as where to go for lunch.

No matter which conflict style you use, we hope you win more than you lose.

Tag and Catherine Goulet are authors of Dream Careers and founders of FabJob Inc. Visit to discover how to break into the career of your dreams.

by Tag and Catherine Goulet
Sisters Tag and Catherine Goulet are the Dream Career Experts. In 1999 they founded, a publisher of guides on how to break into a dream career, which has been visited by 50 million people. They have been featured giving career advice in media from ABC to and Woman's Day to the Wall Street Journal online, and their career advice appears frequently on the career pages at and They are authors of the book Dream Careers: How to Quickly Break into a Fab Job! Visit to discover how to break into a dream career. is featured in Woman's World Magazine ("Land Your Dream Job" article, April 2007).

FabJob Guides have been featured in stories at The Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur Magazine sites.

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