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How to Deal with Conflict at Work

Tyler Harms, teacher consultant for All Belong Center for Inclusive Education, explains how to work through conflict using the 24-hour rule and Restorative Practices.

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” –Colossians 3:13 ESV

If you stay long enough at a school, you will inevitably encounter some sort of conflict. This is a part of human nature since we are all unique and have different opinions and perspectives about particular topics. We feel like we need to stand up for ourselves when we are wronged or see others being taken advantage of. The truth is that conflict may always be in your organization at some level, but how you choose to work through conflict with your colleagues is within your control. Your colleagues will respect and view you as a leader if you show humility, grace, and forgiveness in the face of conflict.

Use the 24-Hour Rule When Conflict Comes Your Way

There may come a time when a colleague, parent, administrator, or family member says something that you disagree with. This could be to you directly, through the grapevine, in an email, or through social media. The immediate response we all have is to march right up to that person or email them back and let me know exactly what we think of their comments or actions toward us. While this is certainly what we would like to do, we might say things in the heat of the moment that we will regret as well. If you find yourself in the midst of a conflict, I would urge you to use the 24-hour rule before responding. The 24-hour rule simply means that you take some time to reflect on what you or the other people have done or said to determine the best course of action. In the heat of the moment, we may say or do something that we cannot take back. Waiting 24 hours allows you to regroup, gather more information, and respond appropriately. This does not mean you still won't be fired up after 24 hours, but I am certain you will respond more professionally if you take some time to think about what you will do next.

When you are ready to respond, I suggest a meeting in person with the one with whom you are in conflict, according to how the Bible directs us. Sometimes this might mean bringing in a trusted leader or peer. Responses through email are not always effective since tone is hard to pick up on and is often misinterpreted. When you are in the same room with this person, you are more likely to resolve the conflict and move on. In this meeting, enter with a posture of humility and a resolve to listen well. Trying to empathize and understand the other’s perspective is important.

Admit When You Are Wrong

There will probably be times when you have wronged someone else either through gossip, a judgmental comment, or what you wrote in an email. It takes humility and self-reflection to realize when you have hurt someone else. Admitting that you have messed up and then going to that person will speak volumes about your heart. We have all said something we shouldn't have to others, but circling back around and apologizing and making things right and is a sign of someone who truly cares about others and considers integrity in relationships important. Both qualities are ones that should be respected.

Seek to Understand Their Viewpoint

When an administrator, student, colleague, or family member says or does something that hurts or offends you, take a minute to think of why they might be saying or doing these things. Trying to understand their point of view and how they might feel wronged is an important step to maintain a positive relationship. In seeking accountability, others may approach that in ways that seem critical and uncaring which may be more about their approach than their intent. When you are ready to have a conversation, come to the table with an open mind. Often times, there are outside circumstances, both personal and professional, that impact everyone’s perspective, situation, and response that impact attitude and performance. Be sensitive to and listen to their concerns so you can move forward united instead of divided.

Work Through Conflict Using Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices is a formal way in which you can help moderate conflict between individuals. Using the following Restorative Practices questions, teachers can help students and adults problem-solve in a respectful way that brings understanding and closure for all parties in a conflict. (The following prompts come from Restorative Practice cards.) This is a great place to begin understanding what is at the heart of the conflict.

When Challenging Behavior

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • What have you thought about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way have they been affected?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To Help Those Affected

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

Why Restorative Practices Works

Restorative Practices have been a game changer for me, not only to support my students in the classroom, but at home and the workplace as well. These questions are unique in that they do not ask “Why did you do this?” Most students would answer that question, “I don’t know” and that would be the end of the conversation. They help to dive deeper into the root cause of the conflict, allowing for everyone to see the other’s perspective. Restorative Practices help to resolve conflicts in a dignified way and at the same time helps to build empathy for one another.

The Goal – Move Forward United

The hope is that the individuals involved will be able to forgive each other and move forward. This may not always be the case. At times, individuals continue to hold on to an issue and not let it go. If that happens, reflect to confirm that you have done everything possible to heal the conflict. If so, you have done all you can and must move forward. Take every step: Be humble, gracious, and forgiving when working with others. How you respond prayerfully to conflict will build trust and respect with your colleagues.

I challenge you to try Restorative Practices or the 24-hour rule if you haven’t already. Building understanding and respect for others’ perspectives without judgment will allow you to help manage conflict between students as well as colleagues in a way that honors God and others.

Tyler Harms is a teacher consultant for All Belong Center for Inclusive Education. Tyler spent twelve years in the classroom as a special educator in Colorado and Michigan prior to joining All Belong. Tyler is passionate about supporting educators, students, and their families. He is an educational author and recently published a daily guide and resource for teachers titled Teaching For God’s Glory-Daily Wisdom and Inspiration for New Teachers. What he loves most about working for All Belong is the opportunity to build relationships and empower educators, students, and families. Tyler lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and three boys. He enjoys hiking, fishing, camping, and anything outdoors with his family. Feel free to reach out to or on his website at

Image of adults in conflict

Trying to understand their point of view and how they might feel wronged is an important step to maintain a positive relationship.

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