Performance Communication , Workplace Communication

What Conflict and Cancer Have in Common

What Conflict and Cancer Have in Common

Picture of two people in conflict.I was with a group of healthcare leaders when one person posed the question, “How do you manage conflict?” 

Many of the responses I heard surprised me. There was a lot of advice to “wait and see what happens,” “let it go,” and “rise above.” The advice given seemed to directly contradict what healthcare leaders would do in dealing with disease and illness. I doubt any of these professionals would tell someone with cancer to “wait and see,” or “let it go.”

This got me thinking that we all need to do a better job of treating conflict in the same way we would address cancer or another serious illness. Don’t avoid it, deal with it assertively, early, and with support!

Although most of our everyday conflict doesn’t have life and death consequences, it can often result in destruction of relationships, reduced morale, lower productivity, and more.  As a result, we should approach it the same way we would approach a serious illness.

Build Awareness: Know the signs that a conflict may be brewing. Are you overhearing negative conversations between your staff? Have people who used to communicate openly with you suddenly stopped talking to you? Have people who used to be cooperative become difficult? Are you more stressed than ever about interacting with certain people?

Expand Your Knowledge: Learn more about how conflict arises, what triggers it, and the approach you and others take in dealing with it. Learn to Perception Check to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Learn skills and techniques for handling conflict when it does arise. 

Prevention: Take steps to prevent conflict when possible. Communicate openly and honestly. Don’t keep things inside you know are going to build resentment later. Build strong relationships, including trust and empathy, in good times, so your relationships can withstand the bad times.

Early Intervention: Deal with conflict when it is small, rather than waiting for it to grow into something that can’t be cured.

Get Help: Seek advice for dealing with conflict from experts or others who have experienced a similar situation.

Review Your Goals and Priorities: What are you trying to achieve in the situation? What does resolution look like to you? To the other person? Know what your needs are and what you’re trying to accomplish BEFORE you discuss the situation with the other person.

Know What You Can Control and What You Can’t: Because conflict involves two people, there’s only so much you can control. Just like medical treatments don’t always work on everyone, conflict resolution techniques won’t solve every problem, especially when one person doesn’t want the issue resolved.

Stay Positive: Even when things don’t go well and conflict isn’t resolved perfectly, the fact that you took steps to try to resolve it is something you should be proud of and positive about. Sometimes, just the fact that you stood up for yourself and “had your say,” is enough.


Amy Castro is a workplace communication expert, speaker, trainer, and writer of  The Performance Communication Blog. She also authored the book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.

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Comments (2)

  1. Beverly Baldwin
    20:12 pm

    excellent advice within a super analogy. . .

    1. 21:19 pm

      Thank you Beverly!

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