Tense Work Environments: Getting Along and Settling Disagreements with Co-Workers

When you’re working in a tense environment, it can be difficult to approach those around you—especially the people who already disagree with you and your livelihood depends on your career.

I know it’s tough; I’ve been there. But with my conflict resolution tips, I’ll help you gain the confidence and skills you need to navigate these situations in a way that benefits all the parties involved. 

Why It’s Important to Confront Disagreements and Tension in the Workplace

It may be tempting to take disagreements and sweep them under the rug, but doing that has a way of making things worse for you further down the line. 

It’s the same way with a tense work atmosphere—if the tension around you is palpable, you’ll want to try and dissipate it sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the toxicity will fester, and that isn’t good for anyone.

Tips for Working with Difficult Co-workers

As humans, we assume too often that those who disagree with us are out to get us. But that’s often not the case. 

Don’t Assume Bad Intent

So, when you’re approaching the other side in a disagreement, don’t assume that they have ill intent. Instead, picture them as having good intentions—-or even neutral intent—this will allow you to see them more objectively. 

Approach the Conversation Hopefully

Much like assuming someone has bad intent, assuming that a conversation is a “difficult” conversation frames it in that negative light. So, don’t think of a situation as difficult—this makes it seem that way even if it isn’t. Instead, think of the circumstances in a positive light. By having this discussion, you will be taking the initiative towards something that will lead to needed, positive changes. 

Additionally, plan out what you want to say and talk about, but don’t make your conversation scripted. If you speak from the heart, you’ll speak with conviction.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

When you’re caught in the middle of a disagreement and steeling yourself to approach someone who already disagrees with your stance, it’s important to pause and consider everyone else’s different perspectives. Where is the other person coming from?

 Really think through your opposition’s stance, and how they feel. You might find that you’re not so different after all—ultimately, you both want your organization to succeed.

Ask Questions

Continue to cultivate a positive atmosphere by asking the other side questions to show that they’re being heard and really listened to. This gives your opponent a chance to speak, and to ask you questions back. 

Demonstrate Your Value

Make sure you’re showing the value behind your side of things when you’re explaining your viewpoint so that it plays out more like a discussion and less like an argument. 

Knowledge Is Power

Additionally, you’ll want to be equipped with as much knowledge as possible during these situations. Remember, knowledge is power, so power up and use that intel wisely. 


You’ll also want to reflect on the conversation once it’s over. What did you do well? What can be improved for next time? Take the outcomes and use your learnings towards future conversations to gain the results you want. 

For further guidance on approaching someone who already disagrees with your position, watch my video on the topic.

Diffusing Tense Relationships in the Office

When an environment is so tense that you feel like you’re suffocating, the first step you should take is a step back. 

Walk Away

By taking time out to step aside and walk away from a situation temporarily, you’re giving yourself and the other party much-needed breathing room to reassess what’s going on. This time is also a valuable time for reflection. 

 Walking away from a situation doesn’t make you weak. Rather, it helps to make the discussion you’re having possible in the future. By walking away, you’re giving yourself a better chance to get your point across effectively when it is discussed again.

As an added bonus, some of the tension you may have been experiencing while initially trying to negotiate or problem-solve can dissipate if the other side is given some time and space.

Remember, walking away temporarily is not the same as sweeping something under the rug, or avoiding conflict altogether. It’s just a much-needed pause in a discussion or email string that will ultimately be more fruitful for you after that space is taken.

Stay Calm

It’s also important to stay calm in these situations, and walking away can help you find that sense of calm. Like I’ve said in my videos, taking a break and walking away for a little bit can work wonders towards finding a resolution. 

 If you need additional advice, see my video on dealing with tense environments when negotiating.

Staying in Control When Emotions Run High at Work: Final Thoughts

That’s my take on dealing with disagreement and tense environments in the workplace. To recap, you’ll need to do these key things in order for your endeavors to be successful: 

  • Don’t assume bad intent
  • Approach the conversation optimistically
  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Ask questions
  • Demonstrate your value
  • Gather as much knowledge on the situation as possible
  • Reflect on the outcome of the situation 
  • Walk away when necessary and regroup later
  • Stay calm

Lastly, remember that an important part of navigating these situations is persistence. No matter what happens, pick your battles, keep trying, and don’t give up. 

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