Resolving Conflict

Conflict between you and your boss – for Leaders

There are few things an individual wants to know about less than a conflict between managers. This is never truer than when the conflict is between their boss and their boss’s boss. This moves the whole issue way beyond “not my problem”all the way to “makes us all nervous”, which is never good.

So, as the leader, there is no conflict more important to resolve than one with your own manager.

Again, we suggest a coaching conversation as a great way to resolve conflict. But step lightly and thoughtfully. This relationship can be the difference between you feeling confident and happy at work, and doing your best work, and you feeling on edge and unsupported.

These are the steps:


  • Jot down some points on the conflict
  • Be openminded and confident that the conflict can be resolved
  • Try and walk in the shoes of your manager. What do you think is behind this conflict?
  • Consider your role in the conflict. What is your contribution? What have you done to cause the conflict and what have you done to attempt to resolve it? Are you sure your manager also perceives that there is a conflict?
  • If it’s ongoing, think about how you’ve tried to resolve it in the past. What’s worked and what hasn’t.
  • Connect with your manager and make a time to speak. Don’t toss the conversation into the tail end of another meeting. Don’t surprise your manager. Allow them the opportunity to expect the conversation as well.
  • Don’t gossip about this situation to anyone. If you have a chance to resolve it, do it respectfully and transparently. If you genuinely want to resolve the conflict, you can’t be seen to be fueling the flames.

GROW – the conversation

  • Set a Goal – explain the conflict in as factual way as possible. Explain how you’re feeling and where you think that’s coming from. Ask your manager for their perspective.
  • Reality – explain how you think the conflict is impacting working together, and the quality of work you’re achieving, if in fact you think it’s having an impact. Be specific about your reality. Be open to their perspective of the same reality.
  • Options – talk about options for resolving the conflict. Look at resolving it from both sides. Make sure the resolution is genuine for both of you. Trust in this important relationships is very important and has a huge impact on your ability to enjoy work and to do great work.
  • Wrap up – with agreement on how you’ll all go forward.

Follow Up – after a conflict between you and your manager, depending on the foundations of the relationship, and how well you handled the conflict resolution, it can take a while to reconnect and be comfortable in the working relationship. We suggest a follow up to reconfirm that the conflict is resolved and everything is working well. The follow up just closes off the issue and gets the discussion back on the positive side of the work you’re doing together.

This direct approach is much aligned to open constructive relationships and culture. If you’re in a good business with a good leader, having the occasional conflict and resolving it in a straight forward manner should be a normal part of life. If you have a manager who cannot work through conflict in a constructive manner, you should consider how “coachable” this is from where you sit in the business, and if it’s not coachable, what its impact is on your confidence and trust in working well together.

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mwah. making work absolutely human

As well as a GROW Coaching Conversation, there are a few extra things you can do to resolve conflict with your manager:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Understand Motive and Reason
  3. Insert ‘WIN’ into your Language
  4. Know What to Avoid
  5. CARE

(1) KnowYourself

Conflict is part of life, but it need not be a disaster when it happens. Working with someone closely, as you do with a manager, you see each other at your best and worst, and during conflict you should have enough respect and confidence in each other to resolve it together. To do that well, you have to be very aware of your genuine commitment to the relationship, and whether you’re doing everything you can to make the relationship work well.

(2) Understand Motive and Reason

Conflict at this level can have a number of reasons behind it. It can be the culmination of small things adding up, it can the result of a particular work pressure or event, or it can be symptomatic of a not-great relationship. Thinking through the reasons behind the conflict will help you know whether you’re honestly resolving a particular conflict, or whether your relationship is inconsistent.

At the heart of reasons behind the conflict, you need to be sure that your manager has your back, and is supportive of your success, and that this conflict is not symptomatic of a problem in the relationship.

(3) Insert “WIN” into your Language

There’s a great little model in the Workplace Conflict Guide (Harding, Whelan and Farrar, 2014 – link below this section). It’s called “WIN”.

Insert this simple frame into your conversation with your manager. It’s the “3 steps to W.I.N” approach as you prepare for a conversation to resolve conflict:

Step 1  When you… – describe your concerns about past events using neutral, factual language, as far as possible. For example you might say:  “Last week when you raised your voice in the meeting…”

Step 2  I feel… – explain how it made you feel:  “I felt hurt, under attack”.

Step 3  Next time...– propose to the other person what you could both do differently in the future:  “Next time could we both talk about any problems before the team meeting?”

Remember W.I.N – “When you”, “I feel”, “Next time” and use neutral, non-emotive language.It’s nice language to soften a conversation when you’re feeling emotional or hurt or even a little insecure, as is often the case when you’re dealing with conflict with your manager.

(4) Know What to Avoid

There are a few things to avoid if you’re serious about resolving conflict constructively. Here’s the short list:

  • Don’t be pessimistic. If you’re constructive and confident, you can resolve any conflict that comes your way.
  • Don’t bad mouth any person or gossip about them. It will get back to the person. There’s no excuse. You’re all grown-ups, plus you’re leaders. Own that responsibility and set a better example. Keep your own head clear as well.
  • Don’t be defensive and don’t let others be defensive. Don’t let either person buy into conspiracy theories. Aim to resolve the conflict constructively and have everyone move on without baggage. Holding on to conflict will steal good sleep from everyone who is involved, and not add anything helpful to the situation.
  • Don’t be close minded. Be open to all sides of the conflict. Be open to all potential solutions.

(5) CARE

At mwah, we suggest every work situation starts with CARE. Caring about the person in front of you, in this case, your manager, with whom who you have the conflict.

We use CARE as an acronym:

  • Connected
  • Authentic
  • Respectful
  • Empathetic

Connected – Stay connected to your manager, and assume you can resolve any conflict.

Authentic – Keep it honest and real.

Respectful – Maintain respect between the two of you.

Empathetic – Stay empathetic. Open to the other person. Try to walk in their shoes.

All this combined, gives you the best chance of resolving any conflict, but specifically with your manager. And we go right back to the beginning, reminding you that a business only thrives when the leaders work in step with each other. No one wants to hear about the squabbles of their leaders. They want to know that the people leading the business are resolving conflict and working well together. Own any conflict between you and your manager and get it fixed.

And, if conflict is not resolvable between you and your manager, you may need to consider the impact of this context on your performance, your career and your ability to confidently contribute at your best. There are occasions when conflict with a direct manager becomes a big derailer in a person’s career and work life. It is such a critical relationship, that if conflict remains, it might be best to consider a change in role or even company to ensure you have the best possible context – including a supportive manager – to support your work, your career and your wellness.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

Resolving conflict with a manager is a pretty core career skill. We don’t always have perfect relationships with our manager, nor do we always get to choose the type of manager we end up working for. That said, there’s a significant difference between working for a manager with whom you need to resolve conflict with occasionally and a manager with whom you cannot form a constructive relationship.

If you find yourself constantly trying to resolve conflict, particularly if you feel you’re the only one in the relationship who is, then you will eventually need to weigh up whether it’s a workable long-term relationship. You need to ensure that it’s in your best interest or whether you’d be better in another more constructive relationship. You might like to talk to others who have worked well with your manager, and find ways to collaborate more constructively.

Beyond the specific relationship, if you want to develop deep expertise in conflict resolution, we suggest a combination of practice and also reading from the experts.

Using the GROW coaching model to resolve conflict and keep the additional points in mind –

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Understand Motive and Reason
  3. Insert ‘WIN’ into your Language
  4. Know What to Avoid
  5. CARE

You might like to also now look at the models of conflict resolution. The most popular one is the Thomas Kilmann model –


It’s obviously best to move to the collaborating stage to resolve conflict but looking at these options and being aware of both your own behaviour and your manager’s, you can decide if you need to “up” assertiveness or cooperativeness to move the resolution forward. It’s a nice frame to use to challenge behaviour.

There’s also, as mentioned, some great free books on iTunes that deal with Conflict Resolution.

We recommend two. Both are really helpful. You will need an iTunes account and iBooks, but the books themselves are free are written by experts in conflict resolution and mediation.

Here’s the Australian one. It is one of the best resources you can find about conflict resolution in the Australian environment.

And here’s the American one, that is also very good.

And if you want to become a serious expert in conflict resolution and conflict systems theory, this research paper is hard to beat.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

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