How to Work Through Conflict

Do you know how to rebuild a relationship after conflict?

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #60

Today’s article is a response to an email that I got from a high school student. My answer will give you the tools and tips you need to work with others through a conflict and rebuild the relationship once the conflict has been resolved. 


Hi Lisa.

I'm trying to avoid an awkward situation and I hope you can help. I'm starting my junior year of high school and I'm an officer of my school's Key Club. Our annual meeting is coming up and I'm worried.

A few months ago, I parted ways with my two best friends. They were really treating me badly so it was necessary. I can't say that I really regret it, but it was a pretty awful "break-up", if you will.

They are also club officers so I will be seeing them at this meeting and at all of our meetings over the next two years. I'm getting anxious about being thrust into a social situation that includes them.

Our meetings usually include a fair bit of downtime and socialization and I'm most worried about making small talk. Do I avoid them altogether? Politely ask them how they are, knowing that they may turn around and bite my head off? Do I ask a question about something that I know they were planning to do this summer? Any advice you have would be really useful.

You are exactly right that you could choose to ignore them, choose to be polite, or you could choose to sincerely ask them about their summer. And, yes, they may react in a negative manner.

How to Work Through Conflict

Your situation is difficult; managing conflict is difficult for anyone--even for established professionals. However, although it’s not going to be easy, in a way, it's actually a good thing. Because, everyone, at some point in their career--whether in school teams, work teams, or volunteer team, at some point--gets asked to work with people with whom they don't get along or with whom they've had issues. Everyone needs to learn how to act professionally with teammates during and after conflict.

Unfortunately, for you, the experience came a bit sooner than for most, but if you can successfully learn to navigate this situation over the next two years, you going to find that you've learned an extremely valuable skill: one that will serve your well throughout your career, no matter what you choose to do.

Before I describe what to do, I want to explicitly say what not to do ... especially since you asked, "Do I avoid them all together?" The short answer is no, don't avoid them. Although that's probably the easiest thing to do, it won't help. In fact, avoiding them will likely just make the situation worse.

The key to success in this type of situation is to step up. That is, step up your social and professional skills.

Use Your Social and Professional Skills to Work Through Conflict

The key to success in this type of situation is to step up. That is step up your social and professional skills. Although you're still a teenager, you'll need to be a grown-up and demonstrate leadership. By the way, I give this same advice to adults. And, I think you are well on your way anyway, because just by writing to me and asking for assistance, you have already demonstrated a maturity beyond your years.

Next, what’s important to keep in mind is that their reaction shouldn’t be your focus--you can’t control their behavior. The only person who you can control is yourself. So, you’ll need to decide how you want to behave, regardless of the reaction of the other girls.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.