Dealing With Conflict


Insights on Executive Coaching and Stories From the FieldOn May 10th, I hosted the Aite-Novarica Women’s Network meeting on the topic dealing with conflict. We were joined by Darchelle Caces (Senior Director of Project Management, Trustmark), Jennifer Ramos (AVP Portfolio Manager, Global Indemnity), and Bonnie Wasgatt (board member, Everlake Life and former CAO, F&G) who shared their perspectives on the most challenging aspects of conflict in the workplace and strategies for handling these situations. Here are the key takeaways from our discussion:

1. Focus on the end goal.

Coworkers and teammates are working toward the best conclusion of a project or the shared success of the organization overall. Focusing on that shared goal removes the idea of winners or losers, keeps the emotions out of it, and helps keep the conversation on track. Conflict can be uncomfortable, but it can also bring up different ideas and perspectives if the conversation stays productive.

One of our panelists shared, “I try to take a moment before I go into a meeting where I think there might be some conflict. I write down my ultimate goal, what I need from this conversation, so when conflicts arise, I can take my emotions out of it and focus on the goal.” Another panelist shared that she has a Post-it on her laptop that says, “Why?” to remind her to think about the intention behind what she says.

2. Timely communication is key.

Handling conflict is not simply about confronting it head on, but also about the timing. A difficult conversation can have a very different outcome depending on the timing and how ready each person is to receive the information. Some conflict is better handled in a private conversation rather than in a public forum, and individuals will tend to react more openly and honestly one on one rather than in a group setting.

One of our panelists gave a tip for how to handle a situation where a coworker is trying to bring up a conflict in a group setting: “My boss wanted to resolve an issue in front of my team. I said, ‘I am not going to have that conversation right now, I am not prepared, we can discuss that later.’ Someone that worked for me said they had never seen that before.” This is a great suggestion for diffusing the conflict in the moment and moving the discussion to a private setting.

3. Confronting conflict as a woman can be viewed negatively.

Women who choose to confront conflict in the workplace can be characterized more negatively than their male coworkers. When men are dealing with conflict, they are generally viewed as strong, while women are more likely to be viewed as emotional. Being measured in your responses, focusing on what the team is trying to achieve, and being open to input and different perspectives can be helpful ways to approach conflict in the workplace.

There has been some improvement when it comes to the perception of women in the workplace. One of our panelists shared that she was once given feedback that she needed to “confront conflict a little more thoughtfully”. This interaction occurred in her early career, and she feels that she doesn’t receive the same attitude she used to encounter decades ago where women were viewed as emotional for confronting conflict.

Our next Aite-Novarica Women’s Network virtual meeting, titled “You’ve Come a Long Way…Maybe,” will take place on June 28th at 2pm ET. We will be discussing some stats about the progress women have made in the industry broadly. This will be an open meeting and is open to women at insurance carriers, both Women’s Network members and non-members. Register to join us here.