Conflict is a reality of everyday life, but when it manifests in the workplace, it can hamper productivity and
cause undue frustration. This can result from anything. From a colleague who refuses to pull his/her own weight
to a manager who denies you leaves. One thing is clear though; conflict resolution should be your priority,
rather than the conflict itself.
Conflicts are healthy for personal relationships, but not ones associated with work. Yes, you cannot and should
not agree with colleagues every time. However, rather than shutting them down with definitive answers, resolving
it professionally will be worth your while in the workplace.
The thing is that when conflict is allowed to fester or is mismanaged, it can harm relationships, sometimes
irreparably. If it is managed respectfully and in a positive manner, it can enhance teamwork irrespective of the
personalities of the members. In other words, conflict resolution skills can help you not only avoid conflict,
but also streamline productivity at the same time.
What Causes Conflict?
Conflict arises when conflicting views on perceptions, ideas, motivations, desires or people clash. In some
cases, differences in opinion may be trivial. However, if a festering issue triggers strong feelings, it is
usually the result of unfulfilled needs.
In the workplace, those needs can be anything from missed work opportunities to an overly-aggressive supervisor.
Small incidents can set off anyone who is stressed till their breaking point. The need to feel safe, secure and
appreciated in the workplace is what all of us hope for. Unfortunately, when we don’t receive them, it builds up
frustration which can result in unnecessary disagreements.
What most people fail to understand that their opinion is not absolute. While you don’t have to agree with your
colleague, you can come to solutions that are mutually, not singularly beneficial. A lack of understanding about
differing needs can result in broken deals, lost jobs and profit loss.
Top Strategies for Conflict Resolution
The good news is that you can resolve conflicts in the workplace easily if you look at them from an objective
perspective. Here are some strategies that can help:
Conflict Resolution Strategy #1 – Avoid Threats
When you feel as if you are being steam rolled or ignored at work, anger can build up over time. This can result
in a fight when the emotions bubble over. For example, if you think a deal is going sour but the other party is
not allowing you to speak, you can get fed up and threaten them with a lawsuit.
Even if you are in the right to do this, litigation and other threats can only make the situation worse. So
before going out and making such threats, make sure you have exhausted all other conflict resolution options.
For example, you can be the bigger person and take them to lunch to hash things out. Or, you can ask them to
provide solutions themselves and try to meet them in the middle.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #2 – Realize That You are on the Same Team
Groups or teams can become hotbeds of conflict if issues are allowed to escalate. The most common conflicts
result from disagreements and inability to accept perspectives that are different than our own.
Most of us see another’s point of view as the opposite of our own which can make us demonize them. It’s just
human nature. The good news is that you can overcome this tendency by nipping it in the bud.
Do that by searching for an ideal or a goal you share. For example, if a project is taking more time to
complete, come up with a solution that can appease the client, not your supervisor. This is important because at
the end of the day, both of you are trying to ensure clients remain satisfied. An ‘us vs. them’ mentality will
only result in conflicts, not solutions. The more ways you can connect, the more productive and collaborative
you can be.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #3 – Determine Deeper Issues
Conflicts usually arise from problems that are skin deep. Our deepest disputes usually revolve around money, our
family and professional relations, salaries and our health. Since money is a finite resource, the conflicts that
involve it can turn ugly fast.
However, issues over cash can go much deeper than financial needs. If you work long hours for example, do
overtime and are not paid for it, your grievance may be that you are disrespected. Rather than storming into
your boss’s office and demanding a raise, lay out your views calmly.
Let him/her know how much back pay is owed you according to the hours you worked before suing them. At this
point, anger management is key. Chances are high that you may get what you deserve without resorting to threats.
Yes, it can be frustrating. But, an angry confrontation may compromise your existing and future employment
Conflict Resolution Strategy #4 – Pause, Breathe And Then Decide
Say you got into a conflict-heavy meeting with a client over a sensitive contract. No matter what you say, the
client refuses to back down on certain terms. What do you do? What you shouldn’t do is rail at him/her to get
your point across.
Take a deep breath first, ask to be excused for a few minutes and then think about the situation from an
objective perspective. Are you reacting because you are angry or because you are taking the issue personally? At
this point, you are not thinking clearly if you cannot come up with an answer. Deep breathing exercises will
bring down your rising blood pressure and calm you down enough to re-visit the issue.
This is important because when we pause and force ourselves to breathe deep, it allows us to focus. It also
prevents us from getting reactive in the middle of a heated discussion which may otherwise escalate. Once you
are calm, decide how you want to proceed. If the issue was part of a larger dynamic (such as a team meeting or a
number of emails) you can always address them later when you have a solid action plan. If it does not involve
you, step away or delegate.
If the conflict brings communication to a standstill and it has to continue anyway, acknowledge that it will be
addressed later. In such cases, it is important to process your reactions without allowing conflicts to
escalate. Continuing the discussion at a time when you are clearly upset may escalate the situation to a point
you cannot handle.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #5 – Use First Person Statements to Address Emotions or Reactions
Statements that start with ‘I’ are cornerstones for conflict resolution. By framing your views and thoughts
around yourself, you can avoid placing blame. Plus, it will also allow you to avoid focusing on reactions and
emotions so you can stick to the facts only.
For instance, say you ask a subordinate why he was late to a meeting even though he knew its importance. Instead
of saying, ‘Why were you late to this meeting? I mentioned how important it was in my email’, frame the
situation around your reactions and emotions instead.
In this case, a productive statement would be, “I felt really frustrated that I couldn’t start the meeting on
time because we decided we would work as a team on this issue.” By taking ownership of your emotions and
reaction to the situation, you can assert your authority and ensure the other party realizes their mistake
without a confrontation.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #6 – Understand When a Situation is Out of Your Hands
Conflict resolution skills can allow you to deescalate tense situations. However, if nothing you do or say is
having an effect, do not hesitate to back down. If the other party refuses to come to an amicable resolution,
that does not mean you have to be like them.
That doesn’t make them bad people. Maybe they were having a rough day at work. Perhaps they got some news from
home that stressed them out. Just understand that there is nothing you cannot see eye to eye with them at the
moment and step away. At this point, involve HR or your manager safe in the knowledge that you did everything in
your power to come to a solution.
Conflict is part of life and avoiding it may not be possible all the time. The aforementioned strategies can
help you come up with solutions that can result in collaborations rather than confrontations. Don’t avoid them
because they make you uneasy or uncomfortable. How else are you going to grow and take steps to climb that