Understanding causes of conflict can help create a happy workplace. Here, a massage therapist giving massage.

No matter how hard we try, we can never completely avoid conflict in our personal life or professional environment.

In our various relationships, there is bound to be causes of conflict that will require resolution.

I have learned from my own experiences, both good and bad, that resolving conflict in any situation works best if one remains positive and calm, seeking a solution if possible.

For our professional environments, resolution will typically involve the steps practiced in the ethical decision-making process.

Largely, what this requires is taking a step back and looking at the situation from the viewpoint of both or all parties involved, including yourself if you are involved in the conflict.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about ethical decision-making is that it is not about choosing a side. One of the mistakes that is often made in attempts at resolution is to look at a conflicted situation like a judge and jury, meaning that someone should be right and therefore someone will be wrong.

The end result of most ethical dilemmas is that both or all parties involved will have different amounts of right and wrong (good and bad) behaviors being projected. The answer is not typically a distinct decision but rather a solution proposed with options to change behaviors.

The truth for most areas of conflict is that there is most likely just a difference of opinion that has escalated into conflict. What one person believes should occur and what another person believes should occur do not match.

An ethical dilemma is typically rooted in a set of beliefs, not a disregarded standard or someone breaking a law. People participating in conflict typically want something. When they don’t get what they want or expect, they become irritated. If this irritation continues with no resolve, irritation moves into something more emotionally charged and more difficult to resolve.

If this is a situation you are involved in, then figuring out what the other person wants and the way for them to ethically receive it is the way to work toward resolving conflict.

Emotionally charged people are also wanting something. Most commonly, it is a validation of their feelings. Simply validating their emotions can defuse many needs and conflicting emotions.

An example of this is, “I can see that you are frustrated (acknowledgement). Let’s see what we can do to help that (working toward a solution).”

The Role of Professionalism

One thing I want to touch on is professionalism. What role does professionalism play when trying to resolve conflict in the massage workplace?

The answer lies in the definition of professionalism: the competence or skill expected of a professional.

Whether or not you were trained to be a professional, you are and will be expected by your manager, co-workers and clients to behave in certain ways in your professional environment.

Words that describe that expected professional behavior are: patience, ethical contemplation, neutrality, non-judgmental, seeking toward a solution.

Words that describe the opposite of professional behavior include: negativity, judgmental, complaining without looking for resolve.

Just comparing these words teaches us how to behave or start redefining our professional behavior.

How, then, do you apply ethical decision-making and expected professional behavior to those areas of conflict in your life? I’ll break down three areas where this can occur in our professional world and offer some insight and suggestions into each of the areas.

3 Simple but Effective Approaches

1. Conflict with co-workers. (Solution: Practice positive behavior.)

I have counseled many massage therapists on this topic and, unfortunately, this can be an ongoing problem in some employment situations. I just want you to understand this and get your expectations in line with this kind of reality in the real world.

There is much that can be done to create a fabulous work environment, provided there are quality employees and employers striving toward the same goals, with applied leadership. However, there will always be some individuals who seek out opportunities to create unrest.

What causes conflict on the part of some people? Put simply, these individuals enjoy the feeling of negatively controlling the actions of those around them.

With co-workers it can be trickier to work toward a conflict resolution, but the concept is still the same as what I described earlier: These individuals want some emotion or feeling validated.

When handling conflict in the work environment, try your best to apply ethical decision-making qualities. Attempting to be right and prove another person wrong will tend to end up in more conflict. Understanding where the other person is coming from, being diplomatic in your words, and working toward a positive solution for both parties is a good course of action to take.

From a preventive aspect, keeping a positive and professional outlook while at work helps you not be pulled into these behavioral patterns with this person.

Negativity will always find company, and participating in this behavior can put you into situations you would possibly not have chosen to be in. Additionally, declining to participate in gossip will set the tone for yourself and how you wish to be treated.

If you cannot find resolve, it would then be time to seek out the next person in line for decision-making in your environment, such as a manager or business owner, to intervene.

2. Conflict with a supervisor. (Solution: Practice professionalism and respect.)

 As a business owner and employer, I always found it interesting that I was many times the last person to know about a problem. On occasion, after sitting down with a disgruntled employee to discuss an issue that had become a problem with the office, other employees, or myself as their supervisor, the employee was always surprised to find out that I really didn’t know what was occurring. Nor was I aware of their feelings and needs.

This happens more frequently than you might think. A business owner or supervisor has so many other things their attention is required to be on that sometimes issues can be easily overlooked. This is why it is important to strive to see both sides of an issue, including the supervisor’s side.

Being respectful of the position the supervisor is in and helping to create a more positive work environment is much more professional than continuing in frustration and silence due to an unmet need.

My suggestion is to approach the supervisor with professionalism and respect. What does that look like? Stepping up and asking to meet with them in private, telling them about the issue, creating awareness, and asking how you can work together to resolve it.

3. Conflict with a client. (Solution: Learn how to better define client expectations.)

Sometimes there is no way to please a particular client who has received services from you; however, what causes conflict, most likely, between massage therapist and a client is the client’s unmet expectations.

When the massage is finished, what the client thought would happen and what did happen were not the same. This is an unmet expectation. Since the client is paying for the service, they will speak up about not receiving what they wanted.

The interesting thing about expectations is that you, the therapist, may have actually offered the client what you thought was a quality massage service. The client may have enjoyed the work you did. However, for some reason the massage did not meet the client’s needs the way they thought it would.

It is typically not that you gave the person poor service; it is that what they thought they would feel like after the massage compared with how they felt did not match up.

The best way to avoid this type of conflict is to clarify what the client expects from the massage occurs before you ever start touching them. This requires you to ask specific questions to understand their needs and wants, taking the time to make sure you understand what the person is hoping they will get from the massage, specific areas they want addressed, pressure levels, areas to avoid, and if they have a preference of where you start the massage. (This last element can be important to clients who have frequently received massage.)

During the massage, you need to manage the professional environment. Pay attention to client comfort, and also pay attention to your presence. Participate in just the right amount of conversation and handle yourself in a professional and positive way.

Universal Principles

As a teacher who wished to prepare her students to function on their own after they left massage school, I chose to seek out the universal principles in the topics I taught. I looked for those truths, in order to create guidelines that could steer my students in a direction that would help them find their own knowledge as they became professionals.

What causes conflict isn’t what you should focus on. My hope was that regardless of the situation, whether in massage or in business, massage therapists would have the tools to find their own answers for themselves and their clients. This article is about some of those universal principles and truths.

There is a theme here for you to observe with resolving conflict, and that is to always strive toward professional and positive behavior and actions. This acts both preventively and restoratively, and equally matches what is usually the true intent of the massage therapist: to help the client heal.

About the Author: Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 22 years. She is the owner and developer of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider, and she has authored several books, including Finding Success for the Massage Therapist Who Wants to Succeed. Her articles for this publication include “Guest Editorial: The Client’s Body Does the Healing (The MT Provides the Opportunity” and “Trade Massage Sessions: 5 Potential Problems Solved.”