Getting Off the Merry Go Round of Conflict

I greatly enjoyed the Millennial Leadership Summit because it provided a unique opportunity to approach workplace dynamics from the angle of a particular generation. But by the end of the day, it became clear that there are some experiences that are universal. As Cinergy Coaching‘s Cinnie Noble began her talk on conflict resolution it was clear from the audience’s reaction around me that her descriptions of common workplace conflicts, and equally common failed responses, resonated with everyone.

Merry Go Round of Conflict
The peak of a conflict is easy to recognize, but pinpointing how it starts and progresses is not so easy. I’m lucky to be a part of an incredibly emotionally intelligent team at Learnography, where conflict rarely occurs and is diligently addressed. But I’ve certainly experienced other, less conscientious, workplaces. So without naming names or throwing shade, I want to break down Cinnie’s ‘Merry Go Round of Conflict’ in the context of my own conflict with a previous boss. I’m sure you’ll see similarities between this conflict and the conflict that arises at your office, and hopefully you will gain some insight to help you and your colleagues address conflict when (not if) it occurs.

 Join #HRchat May 17th @ 12:30pmET "Workplace Conflict - The Threat is Real"

Join #HRchat May 17th @ 12:30pmET

“Workplace Conflict – The Threat is Real”

Precipitating Interaction

This is the interaction that seeds the eventual conflict. For me, it was a contentious approach to editing my work. I used to spend hours writing and perfecting proposals before handing them into a superior. I would get them back completely rewritten and suddenly filled with spelling and grammar errors. I have spent many years developing a thick skin when it comes to having my work edited, and I know there are always improvements that can be made, but in this case it didn’t seem like the proposal had been improved at all.

Trigger Point

This is the key factor in the initiating event that causes the negativity. It can be a lack of respect, disregarding an aspect of one’s identity, or an undervaluing of work. In my case, if my math or my dance moves or something else I didn’t care as much about had been corrected it wouldn’t have been as offensive. But writing is what I do, and time and time again it was being returned to me completely torn to shreds. It left me feeling as though my contributions were completely undervalued and I might as well have been submitting lorem ipsum text.


In the early simmering of a conflict, this is the unexpressed negative emotional impact. In this particular conflict, I felt increasingly frustrated and undervalued,


The impression I got from my boss as a result of these interactions. The first time it happened I didn’t think as much of it, but as it happened more and more I began to believe his motives were more sinister.


I love this concept because it makes the distinction between an internal and external conflict. Thinking your boss is a jerk is one thing, but when it crosses the boundary into the external world it becomes something else altogether.

External Reaction

After much consternation, I responded to the over-editing issue by re-editing the work my boss was sending me. I hoped the corrections would speak for themselves. They didn’t.


In this case, the consequence of my reaction was a never-ending cycle of revision that only ended when the proposal deadline was nigh and we had to submit something. This helped no one and frustrated everyone.

Looking back, I wish I’d had the clarity of intent to sit down with my boss and explain my frustration. I understand now how important it is to assess your feelings and their source before letting them colour your interactions. But according to Cinnie, this is easier said than done. “Once we experience an emotional reaction to what someone says or does, the limbic area of our brains is activated and our ability to think clearly, problem solve, be creative and make decisions can be compromised,” she said by email after her session. “Of course, that doesn’t bode well for the working relationship and our work. What is more, we often tend to make assumptions about the other person and his or her intent behind the words or actions and treat her or him accordingly – based more on our perceptions than necessarily the reality.”

Cinnie’s session, and the exercise of writing this post, was an important reality check for me. I hope you will see some benefit in learning from my mistakes, and share the (not so) Merry Go Round of Conflict with your team to proactively address conflict.'

Author: Kate Salmon

Communications specialist and general word nerd from Toronto, Ontario. Upon learning that I could still get a degree in rhetoric in the 21st century, I went to the University of Waterloo to do precisely that. Now I'm continuing my learning journey at Learnography, a non-profit education consulting organization that really practices its principles of continuous development. With a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences, we are changing the face of corporate training.

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