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Conflict Resolution

As a skill, conflict resolution is capability to negotiate and resolve disagreements. This is the ability to use diplomacy and tact in handling tense situations and difficult individuals or groups of people. Rather than trying to avoid conflict, it involves coming face-to-face with it and focusing on the issues rather than the people. It focuses on de-escalating the bad feelings.


Definition of Conflict 


Conflict is a situation which makes you feel threatened because your ideas, positions, or perspectives are challenged (typically by another person or persons). At the core of all threat is fear. This fear often sets up the two types of responses which are fairly ineffective at resolving the conflict:

  1. Aggressively try to resolve the conflict trying to get it your way
  2. Ignore or withdraw from the conflict, hoping it will resolve itself or go away
  3. Simply accommodate, or give in, to another person


Aggressive approach is often ineffective because emotions that often accompany the situation get on the way of rational and logical thinking. Withdrawal rarely works too, because in majority of cases it results in unresolved underlying issues and bottled up negative feelings. With time those may morph into resentment, which sometimes is very difficult – if not impossible – to eradicate. Accommodating tends to worsen the situation over time as well because it causes conflicts within yourself.


Two more effective approaches to conflict resolution are:

  1. Compromising - the mutual give-and-take
  2. Collaborating - working together to address the underlying issue

To manage conflict with another person, follow these steps:

  1. In trying to identify what you don’t like about another person, identify what you don't like about yourself. We often don't like in others what we don't want to see in ourselves
  2. Maintain self-control. If the situation between you and another person heats up, try to consciously ask yourself to stay calm. Say to yourself something similar to “This is a great opportunity to test my willpower and diplomatic skills.” No matter how much you are provoked, speak calmly and avoid assigning the blame
  3. If possible, move the discussion to a private area
  4. Give the other person time to vent. Do not interrupt that person or judge what he/she is saying
  5. Paraphrase what he/she said in order to verify that you have heard accurately what you misunderstood. In order to understand more, ask open ended questions and avoid using “why’s” as they tend to make people even more defensive
  6. Repeat the above step, this time telling your side of the story and asking the other person to verify that they are hearing you correctly. When you present your position, talk about your feelings. During this part of the conversation use word “I” instead of “you”
  7. Once both sides have shared their perspectives on the matter, acknowledge where you agree and disagree
  8. Next, ask "What can we do to fix the problem?" Focus on identifying a concrete set of actions each of you can take
  9. If possible, identify at least one action that can be done by both of you together
  10. Thank the person for his/her patience and willingness to resolve this


If you believe that the process above was not effective and the conflict remains unresolved, consider whether you can agree to disagree. It may also be so that the other person's behavior or actions conflict with policies and procedures of the workplace. In that case you have to present the issue to your supervisor.


Conflict is a part of all human interaction. It can have positive influence if people feel comfortable and safe in expressing differences of opinions and working toward a win-win resolution for everyone. Ability to do that helps people learn from one another and benefit from a variety of perspectives on issues. To achieve that you need to ensure that organization has safe and supportive climate (the right corporate culture), people have the right conflict management skills and that the relationships are based on trust and mutual respect.


Conflict may be needed because it:

  1. Raises and address problems
  2. Focuses on the most appropriate issues
  3. Helps employees "be real" and motivates them to participate
  4. Helps employees learn how to recognize and benefit from their differences


Conflict should be distinguished from the discomfort. The latter arises when the conflict is poorly managed. Conflict is a problem when it:

  1. Lowers employee productivity
  2. Lowers morale
  3. Causes more conflicts
  4. Causes inappropriate behaviors


Managerial actions that cause unwanted conflict in the workplace

As a manager, try to avoid (or at least be cognizant of) the following errors:

  1. Poor communications – employees are surprised and not informed of new decisions. Employees who do not understand the reasons for decisions start to trust the rumor mill more than management
  2. Providing insufficient resource to your team – that may cause stress and disagreement among employees about who does what
  3. Hiring employees into your team without taking into consideration their individual personality types that may not match, or when the employees personalities do not match the company’s or team’s culture
  4. Being uninformed, uncaring or inconsistent in handling conflicts between your employees. "Passing the buck" with little follow-through on decisions is a recipe for a dysfunctional team


Ways to prevent unwanted workplace conflict

You can reduce the unwanted conflict by adhering to these practices:

  1. Regularly have one-on-one meetings with your employees to review the projects they are working and get their feedback on whether their functions overlap with somebody else’s. This will help you spot potential conflicts and overlaps with functions of others, while also ensure no tasks remain without an ‘owner’ 
  2. Foster relationships with all subordinates. During one-on-one’s ask them about their accomplishments, challenges or any needs that have not been addressed by you and management in general. Alternatively, you can ask your employees to send you (e.g. via email) regular status reports, which include the same items.
  3. Have training for your team that focuses on interpersonal communications and conflict management. This may include training offered by your company or services and seminars provided by outside consultants
  4. Regularly hold management meeting to communicate new initiatives and status of current programs
  5. Consider an anonymous suggestion box in which employees can provide suggestions on how to improve work environment


Developing your Conflict Resolution skills:

  1. If you start to sense trouble brewing with an individual, before it turns into a conflict take a step to bring the disagreement into the open
  2. During heated discussions, it is tempting to switch from discussing the issue at hand to a person disagreeing with you. Most of the time it’s a slippery slope. Keep yourself focused only on the issue. Leave personal matters aside. Put yourself in the shoes of another person and ask yourself if what you are saying is productive and is likely to help resolve the conflict



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