Choose Civility!

Conflict in the workplace is a reality of life. How you manage and react to it is your choice

By: Kelly Guzman

I recently attended the American Organization of Nurse Leader’s (formerly AONE) annual conference in San Diego, California. The conference highlighted the latest and greatest topics in healthcare. One theme that stood out to me was related to civility and perception in the workplace. This week we would like to share some strategies and lessons learned from the field that our team has found successful. These proven tips can not only be used within the workplace but also can be helpful to implement in your day-to-day life.

Have you ever thought: “Work would be so much easier if I didn’t have to work with people.” As much as we can all relate to that fantasy, the reality is that working with people is a workplace requirement, so we need to figure out how to make the best of it and be productive. Looking at it from a glass half full perspective, we get to work with people from various levels of education, cultural backgrounds, and work-style preferences. This wide array of perspectives can offer us the opportunity to learn from others, broadening our workplace views, and also strengthening our personal knowledge levels.

Being a good team member involves being accountable for completing work and deliverables on time and to the specifications of the request. Often conflict can arise when the message isn’t received as intended. The sender of the message may have thought that they were clear in their delivery and request, and the receiver thought that they understood the ask. Below are some of the most common themes of conflict that we’ve experienced and suggestions for addressing them.


One of my favorite sessions was “The Art of Perception” by Amy Herman, JD, MA Herman shared her life’s passion for using art to sharpen our observation, analysis, and communication skills. By enhancing our observation skills and being aware not only of what is in front of us but also what is not present, we develop a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. She provided a framework to use when assessing an unfamiliar situation called the Inquiry Model. The Inquiry Model suggests asking the following questions:

  • What do I know?
  • What don’t I know?
  • If I had the opportunity to obtain more information, what specifically do I want to know and how do I prioritize the information needed?

Through this evaluation, you are able to identify any gaps and recognize biases.

My favorite takeaway was her suggestion to eliminate the words “clearly” and “obviously” in your narrative lines of questioning and description. When someone is speaking to you and begins the conversation with “Obviously…” it automatically puts you on the defense and your chances of working collaboratively are reduced significantly. What you can do instead is eliminate the sarcasm and replace the phrase with “It appears to me that…” or something else that works for you. I think that A LOT of conflicts could be avoided by eliminating these words.

Conflict resolution strategies

Clarity dissolves resistance

This is one of my favorite sayings. Often times the conflict you experience is a result of unclear or incomplete information. Most of us know the message we intend to communicate.  If you are a Subject Matter Expert (SME), chances are that you are unknowingly using acronyms and terms that are not understood by your intended audience. As much as possible, use plain English and common terms. As a rule of thumb, the fewer syllables that you use when describing your request, the better your chances for getting what you want and avoiding unnecessary conflict and confusion.

Best practice: Use closed-loop communication and repeat the message or check in on a regular basis.

Many of us are double and triple booked, so the odds are against us. Before jumping in to complete the project or task, ensure that you know what you are being asked to do. Listed below are some practical things you can do to minimize conflict by getting on the same page.

Sender: As the sender of the request, you need to state:

  • What you are asking for
  • When it is due
  • Who is available to support
  • Other resources available if needed
  • Boundaries regarding what the end product should look like
  • Limitations, if known

Receiver: As the receiver, you need to clarify:

  • Specifics of what is needed
  • Is the due date for the first draft or the final product? Are there others depending on this deliverable?
  • How much support can you get from the recommended resources
  • What other resources you might need
  • How to communicate needs and barriers to success

Something as simple as ordering lunch can be a nightmare. The request from the sender may be “Can you order lunch for 12 people on May 5th at noon?” You as the receiver say yes and order family style to save money only to find out that the expectation was a catered affair.

Although the clarification process may take more time, the extra effort can reduce redundant back-and-forth, cut project costs, and minimize the risk of the deliverables not meeting the stated requirements.

People are busy- adjust

When there is conflict in the workplace, it’s important to step back and take inventory of what is going on and understand why so that you can respond appropriately.  We have found that many people are simply overbooked and do not have time to eat, take bio breaks or even follow up from their last meeting. Before engaging in any activities, take a deep breath and consider the following:

Are you tired or “hangry”? Many of us run from meeting to meeting and don’t have the opportunity to eat and recharge.

    • If you are tired or hungry, it might be best to reschedule the meeting for a time when you know you’ll be at your best. It’s okay to take a break and grab a quick bite to eat. I personally always bring mandarin oranges with me in my purse. If I feel myself losing energy during marathon meetings, I have a quick and healthy snack to provide the fuel I need to keep going.
    • If you sense the person you are meeting with may need a break, you can suggest rescheduling, have a stash of snacks to share or suggest walking to the café to be able to eat and talk if the meeting will accommodate that environment.

Are you really listening or are you waiting to respond?

      • Take inventory and ensure you are giving your colleagues the best you and really listening to what they are saying or asking.
      • When in doubt, clarify and summarize to ensure you are on the same page.

Are you using time efficiently?

    • Be succinct and prepared with information, details, and samples. People are busy, so be respectful of others’ time and be as efficient as possible. If you can get your issues complete in 35 minutes and the meeting is scheduled for an hour, there is no need to keep the group an additional 25 minutes. Dismiss them and tell them to make the most of their gift of time.

At some point in our careers, we all face some form of conflict in the workplace. Being a clear communicator and asking clarifying questions to help you achieve the results you need will assist you in reducing this conflict.  By summarizing what you will do and when it will be completed, you increase the likelihood that the task will be performed correctly the first time, reducing the often frustrating back and forth that may lead to conflict. Take inventory and be both self-aware and aware of your audience. Speak to others how you would like to be spoken to and you will be well on your way to becoming a more civil and productive person.