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72 | 5 Expert Tips to Address Interpersonal Tension

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

In today’s fast-paced corporate world, fostering a positive and inclusive work environment is vital for the success of any organization. However, unresolved conflicts and toxic behavior can disrupt team dynamics, hinder productivity, and create a sense of disengagement among employees. As someone who has witnessed the consequences of unaddressed tensions, I believe it is crucial to proactively defuse conflicts with empathy, accountability, self-awareness, and courage.

In this blog, we will explore actionable steps that can help leaders and team members promote a harmonious work environment, enhance collaboration, and foster a culture of respect and understanding.

Identifying the Root Cause

Addressing interpersonal friction requires us to delve deeper and identify the underlying causes. Power imbalances, differences in perspectives, and misunderstandings often lie at the heart of conflicts within teams. By acknowledging these root causes, we can create a safe space for team members to express their concerns and perspectives without fear of retaliation. This proactive approach allows us to prevent tensions from escalating and negatively impacting individuals’ professional growth and overall well-being.

Sarah and John, two colleagues, have been at odds with each other for weeks, constantly arguing during team meetings. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that their conflicts stem from a difference in work styles and a lack of clear communication channels. By recognizing this underlying cause, their supervisor arranges a one-on-one meeting to address their concerns and find common ground, encouraging them to establish effective communication methods and appreciate each other's strengths.

Empathy and Understanding

Promoting shared understanding among team members is essential for resolving conflicts and building strong relationships. Cultivating empathy, active listening, and open-mindedness create an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and respected. It is crucial to genuinely seek to understand others’ experiences, perspectives, and the impact of our own words and actions. By fostering empathy and acknowledging the potential biases that can influence our interactions, we can defuse tension and nurture a culture of inclusivity.

Maria, a team leader, notices that tensions have risen between two team members, Alex and Lisa. She decides to facilitate an open dialogue to understand the root cause of the conflict. Through active listening and empathy, Maria realizes that their disagreement stems from a misunderstanding of project expectations. By encouraging both parties to express their perspectives without judgment, Maria helps them gain a better understanding of each other's viewpoints, leading to a resolution and renewed collaboration.

Choosing the Right Moment to Intervene

Timing plays a crucial role in addressing conflicts effectively. It is important to assess the situation and choose an appropriate time to intervene. Immediate action may not always be feasible, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues or power dynamics. Waiting for the right moment or involving neutral third parties who can provide support and guidance can significantly impact conflict resolution. Delaying action risks allowing negative feelings to fester, potentially exacerbating tensions and hindering team cohesion.

David, a project manager, becomes aware of a strained relationship between two team members, Sarah and Mike. Recognizing the sensitivity of the issue, David decides not to address it during a team meeting but schedules a private conversation with each individual. By approaching them individually and creating a safe space for open dialogue, David ensures that their concerns are heard and acknowledged, reducing the chances of escalating tensions and allowing for a more productive resolution.

Seeking Support and Accountability

Recognizing the importance of seeking support is essential when navigating complex interpersonal conflicts. HR professionals and other available resources within the workplace can provide valuable guidance and facilitate constructive dialogue. Engaging in open conversations, coaching, and mediation can help parties involved in conflicts find common ground and develop proactive solutions. Holding colleagues, managers, and leaders accountable for their behavior is crucial in establishing a culture of respect and addressing harmful experiences.

Emily, an employee, experiences persistent microaggressions from a coworker. Feeling uncomfortable and unsure of how to address the situation, she decides to seek support from the Human Resources department. HR professionals provide guidance and facilitate a conversation between Emily and her coworker, highlighting the impact of their behavior and establishing clear expectations for respectful interactions. This support and accountability help Emily regain confidence and create a more inclusive work environment.

Repairing Harm and Rebuilding Trust

When conflicts arise, repairing the harm caused and rebuilding trust are paramount. Acknowledging the impact of our actions, taking responsibility, and making amends are essential steps in the healing process. This involves genuine apologies, commitment to behavioral change, and creating an environment where individuals feel heard and valued. By fostering a culture of accountability and continuous learning, organizations can create a safe and supportive environment that encourages personal growth and collaboration.

Situational Example: Mark unintentionally takes credit for a colleague's innovative idea during a presentation, causing a rift between them. Realizing his mistake, Mark approaches his colleague and offers a sincere apology, acknowledging the harm caused and the importance of their contributions. He commits to giving credit where it is due in the future and works collaboratively with his colleague to rebuild trust by involving them in future projects, ensuring their ideas receive proper recognition.

Wrapping Up: Harnessing Empathy, Accountability, and Courage

Addressing interpersonal tension and promoting a harmonious work environment requires proactive efforts from all team members. By identifying the root causes of conflicts, cultivating empathy and understanding, choosing the right time to intervene, seeking support, and repairing harm and rebuilding trust, organizations can create a culture of respect, collaboration, and inclusivity. Nurturing such an environment enhances employee satisfaction, boosts productivity, and paves the way for long-term success. Let us strive together to create workplaces where individuals can thrive and reach their full potential.


1. Identify the root cause of tension: Understanding the underlying factors behind conflicts helps address the core issues and prevent escalation.

2. Seek understanding, not just being understood: Empathy, active listening, and willingness to comprehend others' perspectives foster healthy relationships and trust among colleagues.

3. Assess the right time to intervene: Choosing the appropriate moment to address conflicts ensures a supportive environment and minimizes negative consequences.

4. Ask for help: Utilize available resources, such as HR, to navigate complex situations, gather information, and find proactive solutions to address interpersonal tensions.

5. Repair harm and trust: Taking responsibility for one's actions, offering sincere apologies, and implementing measures to rectify the damage caused helps rebuild trust and create a healthier work environment.

6. Create a culture of empathy, intentionality, and courage: Ongoing effort to foster empathy, open communication, and accountability can prevent conflicts, build stronger teams, and support individual growth.

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