In the workplace, you can likely expect some power dynamics at play, and that things aren’t always going to be rosy. When there is tension within a team or directly with your boss, it can make things difficult and unpleasant to be around. So how are some ways that you can resolve this conflict? We asked Kirsty Hulse, who is a qualified confidence coach, motivational speaker and author. She aims to revolutionise company cultures, empowering individuals and businesses to achieve more than they ever thought possible – so we thought she’d be perfect for this topic!


Developing Empathy to Resolve Conflict 

One of our most effective ways to resolve conflict is to trigger our own natural empathic abilities.

Research has shown that not only can we learn empathy over our lifetime, we can also trigger it within us in important moments. Often, when we’re in conflict, the last thing we want to do is feel empathetic for the other person, especially if we feel as though we have been treated unjustly or unfairly. However, empathy not only allows us to reach a solution more quickly it, perhaps more importantly, protects our own emotional wellbeing.  

Developing empathy for another protects us from feeling as though this is our fault, it helps us take things less personally and rise above the emotional immediateness of the situation. One of the most effective ways to do this is to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes through using “I statements” and describing, verbally, how that person feels using “I”. You can either do this alone or, more powerfully if both parties are willing, with the person who the conflict is with.


Ask Yourself ‘What Else?’

 If your boss is consistently taking your ideas and sharing them as their own, you may find yourself saying “I feel like my employees ideas are better than mine. I feel outshone by my employee, because of this, I feel not very good at my job. I feel intimidated. I feel worried about my job security. I feel vulnerable. I feel scared.”

Ask yourself the question “what else?” as you do this exercise until you start to feel as though you’re really understanding another person’s perspective. The key to triggering empathy is to really feel what we are saying and you may be surprised by what you uncover, which in turn could then present you with alternative tools to try and resolve the situation.

In this example, having our ideas used without due credit is not acceptable, though trying this exercise can help us regain some understanding and control of the situation and drive us more readily to solutions.


Which of Your Needs Aren’t Being Met?

 Another way to resolve conflict is through a model I like to use a lot called SCARF. Neuroscientist David Rock describes this as the “five domains have been shown in many studies to activate the same reward circuitry that physical rewards activate and the same threat circuitry that physical threats activate”. In other words, if we have all of these needs fulfilled we feel heard, seen and valued and if we don’t, this will likely arise in frustration and/or conflict. These needs are:


Status: Feeling valued and respected by your peers

Certaining: Having an understanding of what is going to happen

Autonomy: Having some control over the outcome

Relatedness: Feeling part of something, inclusion

Fairness: Feeling as though we are being treated equally


When you find yourself in conflict it can be incredibly helpful to think which needs are not being met in this instance. Are you being asked to complete a task but have no idea of what it should be, or when and the parameters are always changing? That’s your certainty not being met. Do you feel micromanaged? That’s autonomy. We can do this both for yourselves and other people. I love this model because not only does it give us clarity on some underlying drivers that can be causing the conflict but it also gives us a language to communicate about this without all that, often messy and subjective, language.


You can contact Kirsty via her website.

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