Workplace Conflict

"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion."

Dale Carnegie, American self-improvement writer and speaker
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This Business English lesson plan on workplace conflict has been designed for business professionals or other adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

In highly pressurised environments, where there is a huge demand for results, conflict is often inevitable. People naturally have different ideas, and in today’s diversity-focused workplace, that is something to be encouraged. But there is a fine line between having different ideas and being able to find an agreement without it spilling over into relationship-damaging conflicts. In this Business English lesson plan on conflicts at work, students will have the opportunity discuss and express their opinions on issues such as common causes of conflicts between colleagues, how to avoid conflict at work, and how to resolve workplace conflicts.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.

PRE-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Entrepreneur | 6 Strategies to Resolve Conflict at Work

The article gives a number of recommendations for dealing with workplace conflict, including listening to both parties carefully, focusing on finding an agreement instead of on the disagreements, and providing guidance. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was written? Can they think of any ways they might add to the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below at home. In the class, the students will answer a number of conversation questions directly or indirectly related to the content of the video.

The video for this class is a TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan called “Dare to disagree” which argues that disagreements can actually be beneficial.

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means, if they agree with it and how it could relate to business. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including the students’ experiences with workplace conflicts, how conflicts are managed where they work, and if conflicts at work could be advantageous in any way.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with conflicts at work such as to get something off your chest, to bite your tongue and to undermine. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the conversation questions. Before the conversation, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about workplace conflicts. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how to avoid confrontational situations at work, how workplace conflicts affect productivity, and how to find a win-win solution in conflict resolution.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write an email from the HR team to an employee who has been causing problems for their team. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise business-style writing as well as improving their grammar with the feedback from their teacher.

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