Dealing With Conflict In The Workplace With Karin Hurt

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

TBT Karin Hurt | Workplace Conflict


Turn workplace conflicts into opportunities for growth by leading with the four Cs: Connection, Clarity, Curiosity, and Commitment. You can’t be furious and curious at the same time. In this insightful episode of “Take Back Time,” host Penny Zenker is joined by conflict resolution expert Karin Hurt to discuss tackling workplace conflicts head-on. Together, they explore the world of workplace conflicts, revealing practical tools and techniques for transforming challenging situations into opportunities for growth. Karin introduces the concept of the four Cs – Connection, Clarity, Curiosity, and Commitment – as the cornerstones of successful conflict resolution. This discussion isn’t just limited to the office; the principles are applicable in various contexts, from dealing with your kids to managing conflicts at home. And as a bonus, Karin shares a sneak peek of her book, “Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict“. Tune in now!

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Dealing With Conflict In The Workplace With Karin Hurt

We are going to fight. We are going to conflict. We are going to talk about conflict and how we can do better about managing conflict. I have a true expert here with us. I’m so excited to have Karin Hurt with me. We have spoken on some stages together. I got to see her presentation and it’s fantastic. She helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.

She’s the Founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, a global leadership development firm known for practical tools and techniques for human-centered leaders. She’s a former Verizon Wireless executive with more than two decades of experience in sales, customer services, and human resources. That’s how she can talk about this stuff. She’s known for growing courageous leaders, building great cultures, and inspiring high-performance teams.

Finally, I will say that she’s also an award-winning author of five books, including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict: What to Say Next to Destress the Workday, Build Collaboration, and Calm Difficult Customers. That’s what we are going to talk a little bit about. She’s also the host of a popular LinkedIn show called Asking for a Friend. Without further ado, Karin, welcome to the show.

Penny, thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure to be here.

You are the expert on culture and conflict. Is that because you have so much conflict?

You are familiar with our Courageous Cultures work and our publishers of Courageous Cultures, HarperCollins came to us and said, “We are seeing a dynamic that we think the world is shifting and changing. We are seeing a rise in workplace conflict. Would you guys take a look, do some research, write a book, and give us some practical tools and techniques because we think the world needs this.”

We weren’t ready to go set out and write a new book but we thought, “Let’s see.” We built the World Workplace Conflict & Collaboration Survey. We have surveyed over 5,000 people in 46 countries to ask a couple of questions. 1) Is workplace conflict getting better or worse? We tested that hypothesis in the last couple of years. If so, why? 2) What are people thinking in terms of their experiences with conflict? What advice would they give to their former self if they were faced with their biggest conflict again?

The short answer is that 70% of people are experiencing either the same or significantly more conflict in the workplace. It’s a variety of reasons. We are in a cocktail of stress. Coming out of the pandemic, everyone chose their bubble, which created a weirdness for us and them even around friends and family. We have all of the social unrest. We have a conflict that’s going on in the world. We have the shift to remote work. We have people working in matrixed organizations, more global organizations than ever before, and all of that is creating a conflict cocktail.

People are not equipped with the tools and techniques that they need to have these conversations. What we are seeing is more and more people are avoiding them. Of the 30% that said the conflict was getting better, what we heard was, “I’m working at home so I don’t engage. I quit the job that was creating all the conflict. I changed to another department.”

For those folks, it wasn’t even that conflict. For most of them was getting better. It was only a small percentage who said, “I got better at communication,” or we worked through it. What we want to do is help people. I know you are all about productivity, streamlining your work, and spending your time doing the right things. If you can engage in healthy and productive conflict, that is where you are going to save time, have more creativity, and more innovation.

People think that it means I’m going to add another tool or be more productive when I can do this. Communication is the biggest productivity drain there is when things don’t work smoothly, and there’s a lack of trust or any of those things. It’s a huge driver. You talked about how it’s getting worse and that there’s a lot of avoidance so we don’t know how to handle it. We are not doing the things. I want to come back to that point about stress.

Think of it. How do you feel when you lose a night’s sleep and you are dealing with different things that are going on? You are cranky. Your whole threshold goes way down. A lot of that is that there’s dealing with ourselves, getting the rest, and reducing the stress. There’s also that communication piece. Do you have any statistics about how much of it is stress and how much of it is communication?

Stress was in the top three. One of the things that’s the interesting thing about stress is exactly your point. The stress makes it harder. We are more fragile. What we could have been shaken off when we are exhausted or we are dealing with so many other pressures, it’s easy to trigger. It’s exactly what you are saying. The interesting thing that we also found in the research was that stress was the outcome of conflict. What is the cost of this conflict to the organization? Stress. We have more stress, therefore more conflict, and then the outcome of having conflict is more stress. It’s like anxiety. You get anxious about being anxious. It’s like that loop that you are in that you have to figure out.

TBT Karin Hurt | Workplace Conflict

Workplace Conflict: Stress was the outcome of conflict. The cost of this conflict to the organization is stress. And so now we have more stress therefore more conflict and then the outcome of having conflict is more stress.


One of the things I do with one of our clients is when I go down, they have a time where they bring all of their senior leaders together. I am available for coaching, team building, and strategy sessions so I’m hanging out for three days. This guy burst into the temporary office that I have there and he goes, “Karin, David who is my co-author sent me an email. I see you have a new book coming out. It’s in his signature. Do you have that book right now? I need it right this minute.” I’m like, “It’s not out yet but what’s your problem?” He explains.

He had a communication challenge with one of his coworkers, which in the midst, he needed to step back and think it through. I said, “I will give you some of the techniques from the book. Let’s do that.” The interesting thing was as I watched him exhale, he said, “I have lost sleep over this problem for an entire month. I wish I had talked to you a month ago.” That’s an example of how the stress can snowball and then it becomes something even bigger.

Let’s talk about some conflict tips. He has been losing sleep and he needed the ability to take a reset moment, step back, get some perspective on the situation, and then have a concrete question, tool, or something that can help him to realign that communication. What are some tips that can help people when they are in some challenging conflict?

I love your reset. Part of that reset is getting grounded yourself. It’s getting your mind. As my kickboxing instructor would say, “Get your mind right.” That’s where I see a lot of people talk themselves out of having the conversation. The first question is, “Why does what you have to say matter? What’s at stake if you stay silent? What is on the other side of this? How will you feel if what you say is heard and listened to and you can collaborate on a better outcome? How will you feel when that is accomplished?” All of those simple questions can help get you the courage you need to have this conversation.

From there, we talk about the four Cs. First is Connection. Are we connected as human beings? It’s easier to go into a conflict with someone if you think they have their best interest at heart or you are connected. Building that along the way with the people that you are working with is important but it’s also important if you are in an ACE, Acute Conflict Emergency. How do you step back and connect at a human level first?

I want to add something to that because I always say that I learned this the hard way. Do you think that you have a rapport with someone and a human connection, and then you get into this conflict? I always say, “Rapport is in the moment.” That connection is in the moment. You have to reset it but you have to reconnect before you can go through the rest of that conversation and everything. I love reminding people that just because you think you have a connection doesn’t mean at that moment that it counts. You have to reconnect.

Simple things like, “I care about you and the work that we are doing together,” and I’m sure that we can work together to find a good outcome here. Gentle. It’s also in your tone of voice as you are connecting. If you can go into a conflict, calm. Even if they are escalated, you can come in and say, “I know we both want the best for this. What do you think we can do here?” You then connect. The first is a connection.

Next is clarity, which is a big one. What does a successful outcome look like for you? If you go into a conflict or you are looking to try to better collaborate, it’s good to start with knowing what they think the success looks like. If you are trying to accomplish something in this direction and they are trying to accomplish something in the other direction, let’s talk about that because it’s not what we are doing. It’s where we are headed that we got to have the conversation about.

Reconnect to that common purpose so that you are at least on that clarity of what it is that you are working towards that’s the same instead of in two different places.

“How does this look from your perspective,” is another phrase. “What does success look like? What does this look like from your perspective?” You have a connection at a human level, and then clarity. Are we aligned with what success looks like? Curiosity. In other words, I’m all about showing up curious but it’s curious about being open to someone else’s perspective, what’s happening, and what a creative solution might look like for this.

Showing up and saying, “I care about you. This is what we want. What do you think we could do? What are some ideas that you have?” The final one is commitment. This is what we see a lot of people miss in these conflicts. They think they are working through a solution but they don’t do what we call schedule to finish and say, “Who’s going to do what by when? How will we know? When are we going to talk about whether this solution is working?” They generally say, “We are going to try to do better on getting our deliverables done on time.”

It’s so wishy-washy. There’s no clarity to that as a closing. It’s avoidance. Even though you get so far, there’s still that resistance that’s there. It’s still a conflict, even though it’s not a conflict anymore if you have already gone through those three Cs.

To know that, these are all tools. One might say, “Your book has powerful phrases. Can you script conflict?” I would ask that question if I picked it up and it’s a good question. We have all kinds of scenarios. “What do you do with a micromanager? What if somebody steals your credit?” These are ideas. Those phrases might work in your context but it’s more about encouraging the conversation. You can say, “Let me try a variation of this or use it exactly.” We did this because so many of our clients will be like, “Can you give me some words?” I get that I need to go talk to this person but if it were you, what words would you use? It’s a start.

It’s super helpful because when emotions are high, our intellect is low. At the moment, we may not be able to find that question. If you gave me something that I looked at ahead of time, or I rehearsed or knew that here’s a set of questions that could help me in these types of scenarios that I might often get myself in, I could remember it at that moment.

“I could ask this question.” Even just searching for a question helps you to ebb off the emotional side of things and say, “I know there’s something I could say here that would help to resolve this.” Even if it’s not exactly what you gave them, they are searching for that question, which gets them in the place of curiosity.

There are some good generic ones that you can have like, “Tell me more.” That’s easy to remember. Let them get it all out.

They feel heard, hopefully.

“What do you suggest we do next?” You can use it in almost any scenario. It doesn’t mean you need to accept it but it’s taking the initiative to be proactive in the conversation.

Tone matters and where you come from in your space. I could say, “What do you think we should do next?” That might not be a good way to phrase that. I want to bring back to what you said, that the first point of getting grounded and getting into curiosity so that you are coming from a place of commitment to this person to work it out versus going to see who’s right here.

It’s hard to be furious and curious at the same time.

That’s a good phrase. You are right. It is hard to be furious and curious.

The other thing is you are not going to resolve every conflict so then you have choices to make. In our research, we had verbatims. We read through all of these verbatims and asked people what would they do if they faced this conflict again. It was interesting, 55% wish they had shown up calmer. “I would be more patient and calmer.” Twenty-one percent said, “I wished I would have talked about it or talked about it sooner.” They avoided the conversation so it escalated or never got resolved. There were stories of people facing horrible things and they said, “I had to walk away.” Sometimes, that’s the answer.

We talk about it in the book, “How do you decide when to quit a conflict?” You don’t need to stay. When people call me and ask for a friend, people tell me horrible stories. Some of those I don’t publish and then it turns into me helping them but I always say, “Why do you stay?” If your boss is a toxic courage crusher and the whole culture is crushing your courage, why do you stay? That’s an important question for people.

What’s the answer? Why do people stay? Maybe there are leaders here who need to be aware of why people stay, even though they shouldn’t.

Sometimes people stay because of inertia and they are like, “It’s going to take a lot of energy and time. I’m already stressed and too tired. I don’t want to.” That’s when the quiet quitting stops because you are not staying with enthusiasm. You are staying and hunkering down to survive. You are not going to get the innovation and energy you need from people at that point either.

Quiet quitting starts because you're not staying with enthusiasm, you're staying and hunkering down just to survive. Share on X

These are great tips. Thank you for sharing that. I wish we had more time on the show but you dropped a lot of nuggets for people to be a little bit better in having the courage to have that conversation and then de-escalate it from conflict to conversation. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you yet that you feel would be important for the readers to bring that piece to a close?

I would love to leave your readers with grounding yourself in why your conversation matters. Reading 5,000 verbatims of people’s regrets saying, “I would do this again differently,” most of the time, it’s, “I wish I had said something sooner.” My hope for people is that they will know that it’s worth it, their voice matters, and they can be the ones to initiate the conversation.

TBT Karin Hurt | Workplace Conflict

Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict: What to Say Next to Destress the Workday, Build Collaboration, and Calm Difficult Customers

Thank you so much. How can people reach you and get information about the new book that’s coming out?

Our website is and the new book is called Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict: What to Say Next to Destress the Workday, Build Collaboration, and Calm Difficult Customers. You can find all of that information on our website and LinkedIn. I love to connect with people there.

When is the book coming out?

Not until May 2024. We are starting to release the findings of the research so the timing is good.

Let me leave you with one question. I do like to ask this question because I love the variation of answers. What’s your definition of productivity and why?

Productivity is getting the right things done well.

Productivity is getting the right things done. Share on X

Clarity. Quick sentence. Awesome. Thank you so much for being here. I love your content. I love your series Asking for a Friend so I appreciate you being here and sharing your wisdom.

It’s been my pleasure. I’m excited about your new book coming out too. When that hits, we will have you on Asking for a Friend.

That sounds great. Thank you all for being here. I know you took a lot away from the conversation. Remember that you can’t be furious and curious at the same time. Those were great words said by Karin. You have four Cs in there that you can take away and remember. In May 2024, you will be able to go get Karin’s book but you want to stay connected, enter the conversation with clarity and curiosity, and then end it with a clear commitment.

Remember those four Cs and you will already be in a better place anytime you have to engage in a conflict. This isn’t just at work. You can use this also with your kids if you are a parent, with your parents if you have older parents, or in any situation. I believe that these are tried and true and go across different kinds of contexts. We will see you in the next episode.


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