Handling Conflict in the Workplace


Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and can arise from different areas. Whether you are dealing with a difficult customer or finding it hard to work alongside a particular colleague, Extended DISC® can help with conflict resolution.

From learning how to effectively communicate with the different styles to understanding things that may cause fear and anger, this webinar will help with the conflict resolution assessment and cultivate harmonious interactions.


Today’s webinar covers how useful DISC profiling tools are to understand how our DISC styles can be misunderstood quickly, leading to conflict. We will explore how each DISC profile has issues it strives for and how each profile type has issues it likes to avoid. If an individual with a particular style can’t avoid some issues, conflict can quickly arise. 
Sometimes it’s easier to get along with some people and sometimes it’s a bit more complicated with others. Sometimes the rough patch is temporary, and other times the difficulty seems to last a lot longer. During those more difficult times, the first signs of tension can often occur in our communication. When misunderstandings happen, we can try to guess what the other party is meaning. Frequently, others can misread our words, or what was normally discussed boils up several notches and erupts into friction or angst. So how can we avoid conflict, especially in the workplace? 

What is Workplace Conflict?

Workplace conflict is the disagreement or tension between two or more people or different groups of people. In the workplace, conflict can stem from personality differences, miscommunication, bullying, and non-compliance. Although conflict is inevitable in the workplace, there are many workplace conflict resolution strategies that we can put in place to mitigate conflict and overcome it quickly.

How to Resolve Workplace Conflict

An excellent place to start to resolve workplace conflict is with yourself. The more you know about yourself and your DISC personality type, the more you can effectively see where conflict might grow. If you can:

  1. Identify and accept your style
  2. Assess the communication style of others then,
  3. Most people will accept there is a better chance to modify our behaviours if we wish to.

We can’t change the behaviours of others. That’s up to them. We can change our style. In doing so, others frequently respond by changing their behaviour to meet us accordingly. 

By the time we are adults, we have very defined filters through which we both give and listen to others. These filters lead to value judgments, show in our choice of words, in our tone and very much in our gestures, and the other party is busy evaluating you through their own set of filters. 

Types of Workplace Conflict

There are two primary types of workplace conflict:

  1. Performance Conflict
  2. Relationship Conflict

Performance Conflict 

In this type of workplace conflict, the observation is that someone is not meeting expectations, may produce shoddy work, miss too many deadlines, or lack attention to detail. The team or the other employees will have noticed, and leaders especially are expected to front up and address it. As you guessed, it’s really about personal perspective. It’s from whose perspective the shoddy work is being done. A very relevant factor here is how the DISC personality types initiate or their attitude towards activity. Some are the ‘I get on and do it’ types. They go forth and perform tasks. Others are the ‘let’s wait and think about how to do it’ types. They want to complete tasks accurately and adequately. There’s no right or wrong, but fast action versus thoughtful actions can be one area that can lead to what looks like performance issues.

Relationship Conflict

The second type of workplace conflict is relationship conflict. Differences in personality styles and perspectives can make it difficult for team members or staff to get along and communicate well. Disputes can take any form, but underlying differences in attitudes, motivators and demotivators, comfort zones, things we like to avoid, personalities and even our abilities are at the root of most relationship-based conflict in the workplace. If it’s left to fester, conflict usually grows until it affects the wider team and quite often a whole company culture. Often, conflict or what we perceive as a difficult person is not easy to deal with, so we tend to avoid it until it’s at a crisis point. So what can we do about solving these particular areas?

Using DISC in Conflict Resolution

Using DISC methodology for conflict and handling difficult people can help us understand our different behavioural similarities and differences. We can try to identify the styles of our clients, customers, team, employees, leaders, or even family. Using DISC can help us spot signs of trouble early on and give us the right approach for dealing with conflict individually or in groups. Furthermore, it can allow us to step back and find the tolerances for that person and not take issues so personally if we know it’s part of their makeup to do things a certain way or react a certain way. The direct detailed approach that works so well with the D or C type will often flat-out fail with one of the other types even if you’re dealing with the same kind of conflict situation, and that’s important to remember. This can add to the complexity of dealing with someone that you deem difficult. 

Conflict Triggers in the Workplace

One of the things that to understand conflict is understanding what’s underneath it. We looked briefly at workplace conflict types and could mainly break that down under those two categories of performance and relationship-based issues. Part of understanding both of those is the layers underneath as that results in the conflict. The more you can understand people’s makeup or behavioural type, the more you can understand what might trigger people. The Extended DISC® model can provide those insights, and they tend to centre on things like preferences, avoidance areas and overuse areas which are commonly called our blind spots. So let’s have a look at those slides in those areas now. 

Triggers – Ideal Environment

The ideal environment graphic is helpful to remind ourselves that this is part of people’s triggers. The ideal environment of a particular type of person is pretty important. Putting someone in a situation that works against them will result in tension and a difficult situation. When you know that an individual is logical, needs routine and prefers to work alone, you know not to challenge them with an overcrowded workplace that could feel like chaos and sensory overload. In comparison, outgoing optimists will wilt if you isolate them, give them too many detailed oriented tasks, and surround them with rules and routines. Mismatching the DISC profile types with their workplace environment and set-up can cause plenty of conflicts. As the individual will already feel out of their element and on edge, this will amplify everything they’re feeling. You can use this idea for clients or sales meetings. Sometimes it’s a good idea to consider where you meet them, especially if you know you’re about to handle a situation that could be a bit tricky or volatile or if you’re trying to make an excellent first impression in the sales process. 

It is essential to understand the DISC personality types and what they find or deem to be an ideal environment or workplace. It doesn’t have to be physically in the workplace but can include the surroundings and job content. You can see on screen (8:43) the triggers of the DISC Personality Types: 

  • D styles like a challenging and independent environment
  • I styles like working with others and a positive and fun atmosphere
  • S styles like a clearly defined role, predictable routines, little or no change
  • C styles like to have the opportunity to upskill, and an environment free of aggression and abstract emotion

Some of these are key to why they could have conflict or feel put out in the first place. 

Conflict Triggers – Fears 

This slide (9:40) focuses on fear and deals with issues of pain versus gain. We are often avoiding pain or pursuing gain. We have concerns, and we have fears. It’s no surprise the greater of the two drivers is almost always avoiding pain over pursuing the gain. A DISC assessment tool can highlight these concerns and DISC personality type fears once you know what to look for. 

  • D Personality Type
    A business person who is a dominant personality type is very likely to be concerned about being taken advantage of, appearing weak, not achieving their goals and standards, and they like being in control. It’s no surprise their natural tendency will be to avoid the pain of these, and they often feel annoyed when they sense these emotions being triggered. Yes, that is why they often come out fighting as they want to take control back and squash where the situation might be heading. Standing on the other side of that can feel a bit like being hurt by a bulldozer. Your feelings often aren’t considered, nor are your opinions if they aren’t bottom-line facts. The situation becomes concerned with who can push their way through a situation with facts, speed and tone. The D style is natural at doing this as you are scratching their pain areas. Therefore, they need to overpower. 
  • I Personality Type
    An I type person can fear rejection, not being heard, being disliked or being insignificant. For these reasons, many I type salespeople often need special coaching to close a difficult sale where the friendship and relationship they built with the client has been tested. the sales tension is not something they enjoy typically. Once again, an I type driver will quickly switch on to avoid these emotions. It can look like a very personal and emotional outburst to anyone standing on the other side. I styles are often quick to cut a person down and uncover personal weak spots, which can be very painful. The other area to bear in mind is that they think as they talk aloud. They often say something in the heat of the moment that they should have been thinking, but too late, it’s out and usually, they regret it afterwards.
  • S Personality Type 
    The S type people frequently fear letting people down, unknown rapid changes, finding themselves in aggressive situations and having to speak up and give their opinions in tough meetings. Another area is unplaned or undefined deadlines, which puts enormous pressure on them not to let others down. For our easygoing S type people, facing their fear is suddenly not so easygoing. They can become incredibly stubborn and opinionated about certain things, especially if they felt that they haven’t been listened to or are not treated fairly. Think about when you may have heard an S type person deal with a customer service operator who didn’t stop to listen and let them talk. I can tell you it’s not pretty. They can become quite assertive in this situation even if they are a bit anxious about the tension. Just remember they might forgive that they don’t tend to forget.
  • C Personality Type
    C type people typically react if they feel that someone could blame them for being wrong or making a mistake. Making a mistake is a significant driver in the fears and will show in their avoidance tactics and reactions. Another area is loss of control, especially if it’s about information flow and making decisions under pressure without enough information. They could make a wrong decision, and we know that that’s a biggie for C type people. If others aren’t following rules and regulations aren’t being followed in situations that become ambiguous for them, they can often become extremely critical and nitpicky and unhelpful before totally withdrawing and avoiding the pain. Being on the opposite side of the C facing their fears can often be frustrating when they don’t move on, but they’re still bogged in the detail of proving themselves to be blame-free. Or they shut down and remove themselves from the situation so you can’t get to them to talk it out.

With a thorough understanding of our fears and concerns and a better understanding of others’ avoidance issues, we put ourselves in a better place to handle conflict in a more intelligent, less emotional, and less reactive way. This is emotional intelligence based on cognitive understanding rather than emotional frustration built on reaction.

Triggers – Overusing Strengths

Just as avoiding pain is important, we are all strongly motivated by those behaviours that help us gain. The DISC process is equally helpful here, too. Whether you think styles are nature or nurture, each style quickly learns what generates the best gains and avoids most of our pain. However, there are times where we use these strengths in contexts we think we’re going to gain something when actually we are overusing them so much that causing a hindrance to those around us. Too much of one thing becomes too strong and frustrating to others, even more so if it’s a weak point in that person’s style as well. 

It’s frequently true that these overuse areas often fuel the fire in conflict situations as they are areas we often rely on to get us through the tension. It’s like adding petrol to a burning fire. So yes, the D style perfects the ability to be decisive and demanding, behave with a strong will, remain competitive and come across as independent and confident. However, as pressure and tension grow, the D style can move into what we describe as overuse. We start to see things like aggression, demanding, self-centeredness, overbearing, and stepping outside their authority. I’ve created in-depth webinars previously on the overuse behaviour of the styles, so I won’t go into all the details of the DISC profiles this time. I just wanted to point out to you the relevance of how the Styles overuse areas are part of why conflict can arise and why we think someone is tough to deal with. 

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DISC and Conflict Resolution

The point of all this background information is to understand in normal work relationships the behaviours of those we work with and to understand ourselves and emotional reactions based on pain and gains under tension. These links help us evolve and find a willingness to change or adapt in situations that cause conflict. No set conflict strategy or steps that I can teach you will be effective without underlying knowledge about what makes someone else tick. It’s about developing empathy with the other person, not about rules of engagement delivered from the top-down. Having strategies and methodologies will help as a secondary and step. Remember that being under pressure tends to send us back to using our natural behaviour, which is more comfortable. Many tactics we use in conflict situations can be conscious or learned behaviours. In truth, it’s harder for us to stick to using them if we aren’t in control of ourselves and consciously thinking about how we can apply them all the time. Once we lose control and revert to our natural style, all the areas that provoke us start to come out. That’s when our calm exterior can leave, and the energy begins pouring out.

Let’s go back to our primary just Styles and drill down a little more on each one.

Resolving Conflict with the D Style

These individuals are high achieving and can be direct to the point of abrupt at times. They are most likely to sit and work towards their own firm goals. When people or things are in their way of what they want, they want to remove it. Remember, their pain is loss of control, using too much emotion and not achieving things. Conflict can arise in dealing with people who may seem too slow and procrastinating or that they’re not pulling their weight as it can frustrate them. If you’re a salesperson stopping them from getting what they want in a deal, you are also in the way. People who waffle and don’t get to the point within reason can set them off because their purpose is unclear. 

The thing here is that the D style is a fast thinker and an action taker. For those styles that often need a lot of processing time before they take action, this can quickly lead to conflict. Typically the hard-driving dominant D style can end up just charging in and fixing or doing the activity themselves. The other more passive or people-pleasing profile types can easily be intimidated or steamrolled by this type of aggressive worker. The D can react harshly to criticism during conflict and can become aggressive in the eyes of others. So when disputes arise, communication almost always goes better if you know if you can know your purpose with them. Make your conversations more to the point and faster with shorter sentences and altogether more meaningful especially state the purpose of why you’re dealing with what you’re dealing with. They want to resolve things fast so they can have direction and move on. 

Here’s a powerful tip when communicating with a D, especially in conflict. First, set an agenda. Include two or three issues like looking at what went wrong and also how we can fix it. Signal to the other party that this conversation has a purpose and is going somewhere. You will give the illusion you have thought about it and that you’re in control of where it’s going, or they will step in and take control as their time is precious to them. 

Here’s another tip worth practising. Keep your communication in the factual or cognisance arena, as this helps you be less emotional and get on with the issue at hand. Basically, in dealing with a conflict with a D, you should keep calm, rational and direct in your communication. 

Resolving Conflict with the I Style

I Styles are our excitable employees, team members or customers. They are likely to speak up when challenged or upset. They are more prone to outbursts and dramatics than the other styles. I styles are also more likely to be upset by perceived personal slights or feelings that another employee is getting undeserved accolades. I styles need to participate and to be heard. They need to be talking and to be influencing people even if they’re trying to listen if they’re not engaged in the conversation, it’s tough for them to stay listening. When resolving conflict encourage them to talk by asking questions but learn the skill of agenda control to keep the conversation on track. Keep bringing them back to the point. You might even learn some simple questioning techniques like ‘the real issue is’ or ‘that’s important but more important is’ or ‘at the end of the day what we need to resolve is.’ These transitions let you engage with an I style in conversation while simultaneously keeping the communication on track. Remember, not talking things through and being excluded is a pain of the I style, and pain quickly leads to tension which leads to the I style trying to dominate and therefore creates conflict.

Resolving Conflict with an S Style 

An S style worker is less likely to engage in direct conflict with others. It’s also why this style can also surprise us. Normally quiet and often in the background, S types have deep-seated avoidance pain areas. It’s this that they usually hold in and hold below the surface. Occasionally, if a major area like fairness or injustice is triggered, that quiet person either explodes or withdraws and becomes sullen, excludes themselves, or is often passive-aggressive. They can be resistant to change, so even minor changes in procedure or routine can be surprisingly upsetting to this otherwise pretty steady employee. If you want to avoid conflict and hurt feelings in this area, providing plenty of notice of pending changes from workflow to office set-up will help them cope. The S type people give clues and cues in their tone, demeanour, and style regarding what they are thinking. The tip is to recognise these clues. Don’t ignore them but question why this person feels that way. Take your time and don’t talk over them. Let them express their thoughts for a change, and don’t interrupt. If you’re a D or an, I type, you will want to push the issue along and control it. However, you will avoid many conflicts by holding back, going slower and letting the S type person express themselves fully. It will be quicker for you in the long run and far more productive.

Resolving Conflict with the C Style 

This work focused person can become overly critical when challenged or someone is not doing what they’re supposed to do. The C style is logical, exact, correct, and they are a real thinker. These people can resist change if it doesn’t mean improving the quality of work. They are concerned about processes and rules and what should be. Their pain is often flamboyant or overly emotional expressions as they all think that is like puffs and wind without any substance. Our tip is to use evidence. Evidence can be logic, visual aids, facts, statistics or research. C type people usually respond well to anecdotes and stories with real examples.

If you’re dealing with a C type person, you will almost always do better to avoid conflict by less bluster and emotion and more facts, anecdotes and evidence to back up your communication or issue. They also want you to get straight to the point and explain the ‘why’. The ‘why’ is often very important. The C style worker will often want proof or evidence to back up your issue or problem and resist intangible complaints or become reclusive if you can’t let them know the why. There are times that the S style can come across as cold or even harsh to other workers and may be accused of even being a bit rude. Giving them a chance to air any issues and then ensuring others involved in the conflict are given a chance to weigh in as well can really help resolve problems in the workplace when a C person is involved.

Types of Difficult People

Most of what we have discussed today has been about underlying behaviour as it helps shape how we behave observably. I also want to bring into the foreground the more commonly recognised types of difficult people and what we might use to categorise them. You would have met with some of these yourself. Any of the DISC personality types can be any of these particular difficult people. It depends on the situation, what’s needed, and the motivators that make them one of these types of difficult people.

The types of difficult people are the: 

  • Know-it-alls
  • Passives
  • Dictators 
  • Yes people
  • No people
  • Gripers

The Know-It-Alls 

The know-it-alls avoid pain by becoming adamant. They know best. Asking them questions can inflame conflict because they feel challenged. Our tip is to use words like ‘help me understand why you believe such and such’ or ‘tell me why you think it’s this way’ these statements are a softer way of asking questions and doesn’t imply disagreement. Using the word ‘tell me’ gets people to open up and explain more softly without provoking the ‘know-it-all’ types. 

The Passives

Our tip is to get what they’re thinking out onto the table. Be direct, consistent and use repetition. The key is to ask them what they think gently, so it’s in the open. Make them feel safe with how they’re thinking so they will keep being honest with you.

The Dictator’s

The Dictators pain is being questioned and not moving forward. Use and set a short agenda and that we discussed previously. 

The Yes People 

The ‘yes’ peoples pain is conflict and being challenged. It’s usually safe to do the opposite. Ask them to come up with an alternative the two of you could discuss. Give them time to think, especially if they are S styles they hate been highlighted and singled out, especially in a group. So, give them time to prepare their thoughts. 

The No People

We have to be careful not to assume that these are always S or C type people who normally dislike change. They like to follow well-defined procedures. No people’s first reaction is to resist. Our tip is to ask them if how they would like to proceed. Ask them what they see as the danger areas. Ask them for their ideas and their input. The skill is to get them talking and then decide if their restraint is based on facts or fear. 

The Gripers

The gripers usually gripe behind the scene. They are simply expressing their fears but not often in the main meeting. They are looking for support from others, and actually, the I styles can be quite good at sub teaming and influencing people and their way of thinking. So our tip is not to confirm their own thinking. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn in. A team’s only a team if they agree to move in the same direction. Gripers usually stop griping if they don’t get support from others.

We’ve covered a fair bit of information today. I wanted to do a quick summary. One of the things that we’ve talked about today is that we all tend to behave in routine. Some of our behaviours are natural, and some are perceived need to adjust or learnt. As tension grows, we learn to defend our emotions, and this leads to conflict. Conflict can be rational or emotional, built on both. Knowing the DISC styles helps you understand why people behave the way that they do. Each DISC type has common gain behaviours and pain behaviours. Sometimes we can refer to those as overuse behaviours or fears. Conflict can be reduced or avoided if we learn some fairly basic behavioural tips. 

When interpersonal conflict affects us in the workplace, it can quickly alter our levels of motivation, job satisfaction and job performance and all of these can affect business performance and the bottom line. We need to learn how to deal with conflict through some of these areas and to put them into practice. We can’t avoid conflict, but it certainly can run smoother if you understand people better and try practising some of the tips you learned for each style.