Conflict Resolution

by Aled Davies

The tell-tale signs of a conflict

Most people respond to conflict in a fairly predictable way in so much as they confront it head on, or completely avoid it, or maybe decide to tackle it surreptitiously from another angle. We can label these behaviours as aggressive, passive and passive aggressive. Sometimes, we simply have no control over how we momentarily respond to conflict. The hairs on our neck rise and our palms begin to sweat, our heart rate picks up and we become prone to emotional outbursts, such as tears or shouting. This is how our body responds.

Typical conflict behaviours

In order for you to identify conflict around you, you’ll need to pay attention to how people respond to each other when they are disagreeing or when you believe there are tensions between individuals. You’ll probably know how you yourself typically respond – your default response. Below are just some of the behaviours that you might observe in others or yourself when in conflict.

Aggressive behaviours

  • Shouting
  • Using offensive language
  • Making threats
  • Using prejudicial or discriminatory language
  • Disparaging remarks about individuals
  • Making offensive gestures
  • Character assassination
  • Writing threatening letters, emails or memos

Passive behaviours

  • Avoiding face-to-face contact
  • Choosing indirect media of communication
  • Arriving late
  • Not returning letters or phone calls
  • Continuously acquiescing to others’ demands

Passive aggressive behaviours

  • Delaying support
  • Withholding information
  • Unnecessarily copying everyone into correspondence
  • Sabotaging
  • Undermining authority
  • Not returning urgent messages in time

Unintentional behaviours

  • Sweaty palms
  • Nervous gestures
  • Avoiding eye-contact
  • Tense facial expressions
  • Tears
  • Hyperventilation/rapid breathing in the chest
  • Churning in stomach/nausea
  • Increased heart rate
Key tip

When you notice these behaviours, never assume that there is a conflict: first check out your assumptions with each party.


What conditions act as breeding grounds for conflict? An organisation with a strict hierarchy and an authoritarian leadership culture is fertile ground for conflict. Usually such places have a strong ‘gossip culture’ because open communications are not encouraged.

Change itself can destabilise organisations. People become cautious, resistant and potentially defensive when they are moved out of their comfort zones. Organisations that have been involved in mergers and/or acquisitions, for example, experience more conflict. Rapidly changing environments create a ripe atmosphere for stress, anxiety and conflict. While change is inevitable, understanding and managing its impact on people is critical to its success.