Handling conflict in the workplace

It will come as no surprise that we should expect to have conflict in the workplace. Why? – because every human being is different and with difference there is potential to clash.

Regardless of that difference, everyone wants the magic wand to handling conflict. A wave of the wand could magic the conflict away. Eradicating the need to have difficult conversations and keep the workplace harmonious, comfortable… Dream on!

Conflict is healthy and natural. By choosing to handle it you have a fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself. And in turn, build a respectful workplace and relationships.

So Stop! Stop the search for that magic wand and instead go out and buy a beach ball. Yup, you read that right, a beach ball!

Susan Scott (best selling author of the books, “Fierce Conversations” and “Fierce Leadership”.) created ‘beach ball’ thinking.

Picture a beach ball (or if you have trouble doing that, look at the image we have provided.)

Beach ball thinking encourages us to look at each of the colours on the ball. And, see those colours as the differences (people and organisations) have when interacting. Whether in a day by day conversation or in conflict.

When we start to view conflict as a ‘beach ball’ it helps us to consider:

  • What do we really know about the conflict? – our colour on the beach ball, is it fact or is it what we have imagined?
  • What the other person may know about the conflict? – their colour on the beach ball, their ‘truth’ about the situation? Note – we do not need to agree on their ‘truth’ rather listen to acknowledge it.
  • Is the conflict having an impact on others? – the other colours on the beach ball, what do they see as the issue?
  • Where the common ground in the conflict situation is? – this is the most effective space to inhibit when handling conflict.


Beach ball thinking doesn’t need you to agree with other colours on the ball. i.e. the other person, their needs and opinions. Rather, it is an excellent prompt to see the whole picture of conflict not just what we think it is. It is when we have this insight and awareness that we are much more able to handle conflict. We are open to working with the other person, in the common ground, to come to a mutual agreement.

Try it now!

Think about a current situation you may need to handle shortly. Or, think of one you’ve recently worked through. Apply beach ball thinking and start the see the whole situation. How does this prompt your thinking to handle the situation? What can you learn about yourself and other person involved, by thinking about a beach ball?

Next time you need to handle conflict, look to start with handling a ‘beach ball’ instead!

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