Did you ever wonder why some people get so hot headed about work issues while others just let conflict slide away like water on a ducks back?

I believe that for most interpersonal conflict at work we have been looking in all the wrong places for answers. I want to share what I have learned from over 30 years of consulting with large corporations, family firms and entrepreneurial start-ups.

  • Recognize the underlying causes of conflict not usually considered.
  • Distinguish between disagreement and outright conflict.
  • Understand how various personality types handle conflict.
  • Consider how emotions trump logic when conflict occurs.

Let's begin by taking a moment to reflect on how big a problem workplace conflict has become. Just look at the following:

  • A whopping 93 per cent of employees report being negatively affected by inability to deal with conflict on the job.
  • Senior executives report they now spend close to 50 per cent of their time resolving staff personality issues.
  • Over 30 per cent of a typical manager's time is spent dealing with conflict among direct reports.
  • In organizations where stress is high, health care expenditures also increase.
  • Other areas impacted include lawsuits for harassment and wrongful termination.
  • The rise of communication technologies.
  • The speed with which social media puts information into the world.
  • The differences in working styles between Boomers, X'ers and Millennials.
  • Society as a whole where road rage, celebrity feuds, and now an inordinate number of gun related attacks, make over the top conflict an everyday affair.

Perhaps, as some suggest, conflict has always been the same and we are just more sensitive to it and to addressing poor behavior more than ever before.

Look, as human beings we are practically guaranteed to bump up against one another. And because most of us have not taken the time nor been taught to look at our outdated, ingrained, knee jerk ways of responding, we do the same things over and over still hoping for different results.

Here is an example: When you are challenged by your boss for a less than excellent report, you become extremely defensive. You are unaware that this gnawing upset is so similar to how you felt when your Dad was disappointed in your report card.

Or maybe you become super angry when you are asked to take over a speaking assignment that is not quite up to speed and you get the old feeling of being taken advantage of, just like when your Mom would require you help your sister with her lackluster school work.

Suddenly you are in conflict and there it sits in your gut, long after the specific present day issue is resolved.

Most workplace conflicts are not so much dramatic acts of anger but incidents of convert conflict--mundane slights, condescending tones, unanswered calls, and the like.

There are three key areas that are vital to consider when you are learning to tackle the keys to unravel constant conflict:

  • The importance of early intervention.
  • The power of looking at the interactions of behavior patterns and how we trigger each other.
  • The ability to ask the right questions to influence and motivate others to be accountable for their part in the upset.

Every story about conflict is the same. It hurts and disappoints. And every story is unique. It only involves these few people and they have their own spin on what is happening.

Here is the missing piece of the conflict resolution puzzle in the workplace. We really do bring our families to work with us. What annoyed or frustrated us when we were young is still at the core of why some people and situations drive us nuts today.

What we learned at home about fairness, favoritism, and betrayal shows up in how we process these issues at work. The roles we played at home have become embedded in our personalities and we bring them to work. When stress hits the hot button we revert to these behavior patterns as a way of defending and protecting ourselves.

If you were an avoider, you avoid. If you were a procrastinator, you procrastinate. If you were a bully, you bully.

There is a way OUT.

First, you need to begin to OBSERVE your behavior and how you respond. It won't take long to see that whenever a tough situation arises you either get into fight, flight or freeze mode.

Second it to UNDERSTAND that how you react today has a long history from when you were a kid. Take the time to see if you can connect the dots for now to then.

Finally, you can TRANSFORM the outdated behavior with some vigilant strength training. Pay attention and experiment with different response until you hit on one that gives you better reactions from others.

Looking into the past is critical for how you move forward so you won't make the same mistakes over and over. Commit to this as a resolution for the New Year. You and everyone around you will benefit.