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Conflict... What’s Mindfulness Got to Do with it?

Posted By Jen Bishop  
10:00 AM

What does Mindfulness have to do with Managing Conflict in the Workplace?

Well just about everything. Conflict can arise due to high stress levels, changing organisational structure, relationship problems, personal life, and poor performance. This can result in disengagement, lack of communication, avoidance, defensiveness and aggression.

Underlying all of these symptoms is usually one universal primary driving factor. That of fear.

Our brains that evolved millions of years ago have an immediate fear-based stress reaction that drives the human flight/fight response activating our primitive Lizard Brain. This “stress response” is our first line of defense when we feel threatened. And unless we become aware of this driving response we can be caught in these reactive habits and behaviours.

These reactive, avoidant or aggressive behaviours can ignite conflict. When conflict arises, we need a way to manage it, to get through it in a way that preserves trust and relationships so that we can continue to work together honestly, openly and respectfully.

Mindfulness gives us strategies to turn down the fear response, enable space and facilitate a compassionate synergistic solution that drives a team forward together.


Five Ways Mindfulness Helps Manage Organisational Conflict

  1. Mindfulness trains individuals to see situations in a clear, less biased and non-judgemental way. This has the effect of reducing the heat and emotion in conflict situations.
  2. Mindfulness teaches acceptance and non- reactivity to situations which involves always pausing, examining what happens in the body when stress, frustration or negative emotions arise.
  3. Mindfulness trains Emotional Intelligence which involves the four factors of EI. Daniel Goleman the founding father of EI, revolutionised thinking about success when he wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in the 90’s.
  4. A) Self Awareness: Insight into one’s own behaviour, acknowledgement of our part in a conflict and the acceptance of our contribution to conflict, rather than blaming others.
    In order to successfully manage conflict a leader must have a strong understanding of how their emotions and actions affect themselves and affect others around them. This is why Mindfulness training particularly develops insight, management and regulation of our emotional selves

    B) Self-Management: The ability to manage our own emotions, reflecting first by containing immediate responses and without over-reacting emotionally. By pausing, examining our immediate feelings and suppressing inappropriate responses. The ability also to refrain from criticism and develop flexibility. By managing our impulses, we can maintain our effectiveness under stressful or hostile conditions particularly in managing conflict.

    C) Social Awareness: Developing social awareness allows us to generate empathy and develop organisational awareness. Developing empathy is one of the most critical tools for resolving workplace conflict. By being able to “put yourself in the other persons shoes”, allows you to exchange self for other in using different perceptual positions.
    The ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns and picking up cues about what others feel and think has a neuroscientific basis. We actually activate mirror neurons in our own brain when we engage appropriately in empathy.

    D) Relationship Management
    A mindful leader manages conflict through understanding and influencing others, coaching and mentoring for support and development and through bringing disagreements into the open with a solution that all can endorse. They foster inspirational leadership and ignite great teamwork. They are able to facilitate group conflict by understanding personalities and bias and workplace dynamics and focussing the team on a common shared purpose.
  1. Mindfulness trains people to be ethical, socially and morally responsible. This means taking responsibility when they have made an error. And shifting from a culture of blame and entitlement to one of appreciation. This helps prevent conflict from happening in the first place and when it does minimising any potential escalation and ensuring a balanced outcome.

  2. Mindfulness trains compassion, kindness and win-win outcomes for individuals and between humans. Social skill development involves good communication skills and the ability to manage change. Also, the ability to see the similarities amongst everyone, rather than our differences. And to focus on that shared sense of common humanity.

    Four Mindfulness Practices to Prevent Conflict:


    A good leader first tasks themselves to be psychologically present in the moment. Being present means paying specific focussed attention to the situation and the people with you, ensuring your mind is not time travelling, wandering off into the future or the past.

    When we are present, we are observant to detail around us such as our co-workers body language, tone and intonation. The more present we are the more we can really tune in to what they are saying and what may be hidden behind their words and expressed physically.

    By being present a leader can observe both the emotional context of a discussion/conflict and be aware of how group dynamic may influence such conflict.



    When we practice presence, we then have a choice to remain open to the world and others. Remaining open means learning to accept things and people as they are. We may not like feeling feelings or dealing with people who challenge us, but we can learn not to shut down when they come.

    Learning to stay open to the reality that other people are different from us, with different opinions, habits, behaviours, and tastes helps all of us to leave a gateway open to learning new things. And accepting that people are still people, valuable and important because of their humanity not just their views.

    The minute we believe we know all the answers is the moment we stop growing and offering our best selves to the world. None of us knows what’s going to happen next or why many things exist as they do.

    When we’re open to this truth, we see that the only thing we know for sure is that things will change. To be open to this reality and the views of others is our best opportunity to deal with conflict in a respectful, balanced and gracious way.



    Self-awareness and insight become the keys to resolve all conflict, now and going forward. Before addressing another’s role in the conflict we’re experiencing, it’s important that we’re aware of our own thoughts, feelings, bias and judgements .

    Practicing being present to our thoughts and emotions, being open to what’s actually happening and having compassion towards oneself and others will help us grow more self-aware over time.

    When we’re aware of others. We can take different perspectives, putting others at the center of our thinking and learning how best to drive the value they bring. Developing empathy we grow our understanding of others and learn what best motivates them.


    The power of gratitude is like a superpower. It’s impossible for the brain to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Dr. Dan Baker in, What Happy People Know, says "During active appreciation, the threatening messages from your amygdala [fear center of the brain] and the anxious instincts of your brainstem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex...

    It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time.”By using gratitude and appreciation conflict can be managed and minimised. It’s far easier to want to peacefully resolve conflict with someone we appreciate than someone we resent. By practising gratitude using “Three Grateful Things” daily you can change the lens with which you see the world. Slowly this will shift the entire culture from one of entitlement to gratitude.


    For further strategies on Managing Conflict in the Workplace with Mindfulness, or Mindful Leadership, Mindfulness to improve focus, performance and technology management strategies in the workplace email, or connect with me here Jen Bishop.