Resolving Workplace Conflicts

It is inevitable.

When you bring different people with different ideas, approaches, experiences, and perspectives together, there is bound to be conflict from time to time.

The very diversity that makes the workplace so rich, can also lead to differences of opinion. But left unchecked, conflict can quickly escalate and damage working relationships.

Whatever your role – whether you are starting out in your career or in a position of management or leadership – trying to avoid conflict is rarely, if ever, a solid strategy. Adopting a head in the sand attitude is not an effective approach to addressing problems when they arise.

The good news is that most times, conflict at work can be resolved effectively and can lead to positive outcomes. It boils down to developing the capacity to recognize conflict when it occurs, understand where it is coming from, and bring it to a rapid and satisfactory resolution.

One of the ways you can be sure to resolve conflict is by remaining calm. When you are calm you can approach the problem more strategically without allowing emotions to get the better of your judgment.

Conflict – it is Inevitable

First things first. 

Conflict is inevitable. It is going to happen sooner or later.

But it is not necessarily a bad thing. Say that to yourself again. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.

Healthy differences of opinion are oftentimes a sign that your team is strong. Diversity drives innovation: The outcomes you get when you bring different minds together usually surpass the individual effort.

A key starting point is to accept that people will have differences and that robust interchange of ideas can boost creativity.

Spotting the Conflict

OK, so people are different and healthy debate is essential. Fine, but what do you do when a conflict spirals into something more negative and disruptive?

Well, the first thing is to acknowledge the problem.

Obvious as it seems, the tendency is actually for people to ignore the first stages of a conflict. To turn a blind eye and hope that the situation resolves itself, or dismiss it as a normal function of office life.

But, it is important to trust your instinct and be prepared to talk about what is going on.

Communication and active listening are key here. People involved in the conflict and those affected by it, need to feel empowered to talk about how they are feeling. Whether you are a team member or a team leader, it is important to keep those channels of communication open, and build a sense of cooperation and buy-in to resolving the problem.

Reality Check

Once the lines of communication have been established, it is important to get to the real root of the problem.

This means talking to the people affected about what they think is happening and clarifying each person’s position.  

Oftentimes this is the point where you can actually resolve your situation. By simply getting to the bottom of what people think or believe – by inviting them  (or being invited yourself) to explain decision-making processes, it is possible to put conflict to bed and work towards positive outcomes.

It is important, however, that this stage is managed with objectivity, clarity, and fairness. Each person needs to have their say. When communicating about the conflict, remember to not attack the person but to attack the problem. Making it personal will only lead to further conflict.

Find the Agreement

Once everyone has calmed down, it is time to work towards ironing out the difference and reaching a compromise – one that works for everyone.

During this phase, it is really important that those involved in the conflict come prepared to do a few things.

First off, people should be prepared to apologize. Yes, apologize. Even if you are convinced that you are 100% not in the wrong (which is never very likely) it is important to remember that there are two sides (if not more) to every story. And that being in conflict is probably making the other party feel just as bad as you feel.

So whatever the rights and wrongs, a good first step is to have people go ahead and say sorry for making others feel criticized or under attack.

Remember, once an apology has become part of the dynamic, itis very hard to maintain negativity.

Next up, it is time to go for objectivity.

At work, we are all ultimately contributing to the same objectives and goals. So now is a good time to frame those goals objectively and ask the question: What would the best possible outcome for all of us look like?

This helps to set the work conflict squarely within its context. It also restore a sense of belonging and teamwork.

Ask questions, be ready to praise, ensure that your language is constructive and learn to spot your own bias or unconscious prejudices during the resolution phase. Get creative with how you solve the conflict—there is no set standard that works for every situation.

Lastly, it is important that you celebrate the agreement—acknowledge that the negotiation and compromise was worth the effort.


NetAcad Advantage Reading Note: Resolving conflict is akin to solving problems. If you remind yourself of that when conflicts arise at work, you might be better able to objectively approach the issue. Problem solving is something we do daily, and if you can solve problems with ease—you will set yourself on course to be very successful and valuable to your work team.