Workplace Conflicts and Mental Wellness

Conflicts and disagreements often appear as a result of mismanaged expectations or sudden negative thoughts, also known as thinking traps.

Knowing how to identify and deal with these will not only help you to survive in the workplace but thrive as well. Here are some useful tips to get you started.

#1 Manage Your Expectations to Reduce Workplace Conflicts

Manage your expectations to reduce employee conflict in the workplace

“Manage your expectations” is a phrase you’ve probably heard many times in various situations ranging from the home to the workplace. It is nevertheless an excellent way to avoid conflict and to prevent negative thoughts from spiralling out of control and affecting your mental well-being. Here’s how you can put this often heard concept into action.

1a. Check and Clarify

One of the main causes of workplace conflict often stems from a mismatch of expectations between colleagues. If you receive an instruction that sounds unfair to you, it is best to seek clarification first before taking any further steps.

Related: The Awkward Turtle

1b. Assess and Adjust Expectations

One of the tenets of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tells us that how we think affects how we respond to situations. Recognising this, it is good to reflect on whether your expectations of others might be realistic. Assess and adjust your expectations if what you want lies out of your or other people’s control.

Related: Benefits of Playing Team Sports

1c. Practice Effective Communication in the Workplace

Having effective communication skills are essential in the workplace as it avoids confusion and creates accountability. Encourage two-way communication and allow others to ask questions to voice their opinions. Focus more on listening to your team members and less on expressing your own expectations.

Related: How to Communicate Needs to Your Partner

1d. Accept Disappointment and Move Forward

When you realise that there are things out of your control, it is up to you to decide how you’re going to react next. You can choose to wallow in disappointment, or take control of your life and start making positive plans to move forward and stay positive at work.

#2 Recognise Thinking Traps to Thrive at Work

Learning how to think positive at work will improve your emotional and mental wellbeing.

It is easy to fall into the trap of expecting that things will always happen the way you want them to. Unfortunately, things hardly happen this way, and you are left feeling disappointed and filled with negative thoughts and emotions that can take a toll on your mental health. Below are some examples of thinking traps you may be susceptible to. Try to identify if you fall into these thinking traps.

Related: The Science of Happiness

2a. All or Nothing Thinking

Are you the sort that equates anything less than perfection to total failure? For example: “I couldn’t close this deal. I’m a complete failure.” You could be equating your work performance as totally good or totally bad.

Related: Depression

2b. Over-Generalisation

Do you have a tendency to blow things out of proportion: to think that a one-off event is a sign that all future events will be the same? This often manifests through frequent use of the words “never” and “always”. For example: “I failed my driving test. I’m never going to pass it,” or “It always rains when I want to go for a run.”

2c. Minimisation

Are you likely to discount the positive or negative elements of a situation by minimising your accomplishments or downplaying the risks of a situation? For example: “We may have clinched the deal, but the team would have done it without me anyway,” or “I’m not going to put on the seatbelt. Seriously, what are the chances of an accident happening?”

2d. Jumping to Conclusions

Do you often make a definitive assessment of the situation even when all the facts aren’t in? For example: “He did not greet me this morning like he usually does. He must dislike me now.”

Related: Coping with Change

2e. Emotional Reasoning

Do you make judgements based on how you are feeling, instead of using facts and logic? For example: “I feel anxious in aeroplanes hence it must not be safe to fly.”

2f. Confirmation Bias

Do you only look at evidence that supports your current belief, neglecting to consider other competing facts? For example: “I always knew my boss had it in for me. This bad appraisal review only confirms it.”

Related: Resilience Is Like a Fruit Bowl

#3 Identify Your Explanatory Style for More Effective Communication

Recognising your explanatory style helps you to appreciate other points of view. 

Recognising your explanatory style will help you to consider alternative ways of perceiving both positive and negative events. Three elements contribute to explanatory style: locus of control (internal/external), incident-specificity (global/specific), and time-specificity (stable/unstable).

The following cake baking example will help you to better visualise the three elements mentioned above.

Related: Signs of Stress: Could Stress Be Good for You?

How we explain events to ourselves and others affect our mental wellbeing. 

A Recipe for Unhappiness

Improve your emotional wellbeing by understanding how you perceive and explain events.

Rainbows Don’t Last

Locus of Control

Internal: “It’s me. I will never be able to bake anything.”

External: “The recipe on the packet was foolproof, and I couldn’t have done it without its help.”


Global: “I’m hopeless at everything.”

Specific: “I’m ok at baking cakes, but I’m useless at everything that really matters.”


Stable: “I’m never going to be good at baking.”

Unstable: “It was a fluke. I’ll probably perform badly next time.”

We have to be aware and recognise that we are employing these negative thinking patterns. It’s normal and human to think like this, but what we need is to counter the negative thinking by questioning its validity, and finding balance in our thoughts.

Today’s work environment is more complicated than ever and can be characterised by the acronym VUCA[1], which stands for: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

It is therefore essential for you to go beyond technical ability and to acquire soft skills such as adaptability, being a good team player, and having an attitude of always learning and improving. These skills will not only help you to navigate around the pitfalls of the VUCA world, but also thrive in it.

Visit MindSG for more tools to take care of your mental well-being. 

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.

Read these next:


  1. Bennett, N. & Lemoine, G. J. (2014, Jan). What VUCA Really Means for You [Website].
    Retrieved September 2017 from
  3. Weiner, Bernard. (1985). An Attributional Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion. Psychological review. 92. 548-73. 10.1037/0033-295X.92.4.548. 
  4. Proudfoot, Judith & Corr, Philip & Guest, David & Dunn, Graham. (2009). Cognitive-behavioural training to change attributional style improves employee well-being, job satisfaction, productivity, and turnover. Personality and Individual Differences. 46. 147-153. 10.1016/j.paid.2008.09.018.