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How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

It’s normal to have disagreements with colleagues from time to time — we all come from different backgrounds and have varying points of view. However, when a disagreement turns into a conflict, you need to be able to address and resolve the issue before it affects your relationship and the organization’s effectiveness.

To help create a better work environment, here’s how you can resolve conflicts in the workplace as both an employee and a manager.  

Conflict Management Strategies, Techniques, and Skills

When you’re first learning how to resolve conflicts, it’s essential to understand some of the basic strategies, techniques, and skills that are part of conflict resolution.


There are five common strategies in conflict management:

  1. Avoiding – Ignoring or sidestepping the conflict and hoping it will fade away
  2. Accommodating – Satisfying the other party’s demands at the expense of your own needs
  3. Compromising – Finding an acceptable resolution that will only partly satisfy the conflict
  4. Competing – Satisfying your own desires at the other party’s expense
  5. Collaborating – Working together to find a solution that entirely resolves the conflict

While there are five strategies, only collaboration provides a meaningful and lasting resolution to a conflict. It can be tempting to use some of the other techniques, but there is a genuine risk that the conflict will only become more complicated. 


When dealing with conflict resolution in the workplace, consider some of these techniques to help reach a resolution: 

  • Be impartial – Even if you are in the center of the conflict and you feel offended, do your best to be empathetic and understand where the other side is coming from. 
  • Address the Conflict Quickly – Immediately address and resolve the dispute as soon as you become aware of it. Ignoring the conflict gives it time to grow. 
  • Broadcast Praise – Resolving a conflict is not about who is right or wrong. Instead, conflicts give an opportunity for improvement. Change the narrative by encouraging growth and development as part of the conflict resolution process. 


Consider developing the following skills to help resolve conflict more effectively: 

  • Active Listening – Focus on understanding what is being said instead of what you will say next. This will help you see the whole conflict and create a more effective resolution. 
  • Patience – Conflicts are rarely simple to resolve. Being patient with the process will allow you to take the time you need to discover the best solution.
  • Emotional Awareness – Conflicts can carry with them strong emotions. Rather than getting carried away with your feelings, identify and manage them. Emotional awareness helps you bring a calm head to a heated conflict. 
  • Nonverbal Communication – What you’re saying with your body is just as important as what you’re saying verbally. Being able to manage your facial expressions and body posture can help you better communicate your message.

How to Resolve Conflict

The best way to resolve conflict is through collaboration; it takes more time than other strategies, but it can create lasting results. Here are seven steps that should be part of general conflict resolution: 

  1. Accept Conflict – Conflict is going to happen; it’s a normal part of life. Conflict is not a bad thing. Instead of dreading conflict, train yourself to see it as a way to improve. 
  2. Stay Calm – Heated arguments full of subjective opinions and beliefs don’t resolve conflicts. Meaningful conflict resolution happens when a calm mind allows you to be objective and unbiased. 
  3. Listen to Others – The fastest way to resolve a conflict is through empathy and understanding. Strive to actively listen to both sides of the story. 
  4. Explore and Analyze the Conflict – To effectively resolve a conflict, you have to be able to understand all aspects of it, including what triggered it, what each party involved is upset about, and the desired outcome everyone would like to see. 
  5. Focus on Behavior and Events – What a person does is not the same as who they are. People who feel personally attacked will have difficulty participating in the conflict resolution process. 
  6. Develop a plan together – Both sides of a conflict should have room to negotiate to create a solution that will help resolve the conflict.
  7. Follow through with your plan – Creating a resolution means nothing if no one follows through with it. Establish when and how you are going to follow up to ensure progress is being made. 

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Whenever you bring together people with different backgrounds and experiences, there’s a higher chance for conflict. Add the pressure of working under deadlines or dealing with demanding customers or clients, and the workplace can be a hotbed of conflict. 

Unresolved conflicts can cause friction between employees, disrupt collaboration, and directly affect productivity and employee satisfaction levels. By resolving conflicts in a professional and respectful manner, it’s easier for everyone to collaborate and strengthen valuable professional relationships. 

The Role of Managers in Conflict Resolution

If you are a manager or team lead, you are responsible for conflict management in the workplace. It is your responsibility to know how to address and resolve any conflicts in your team.

Take action early to help your people resolve conflicts as soon as possible. Sometimes this can mean that you have to stop a meeting or conversation in the moment, but it is always better to catch and resolve conflicts when they arise instead of letting them grow. Unresolved conflicts will fester and quickly become larger issues than they need to be.

When possible, employees should take responsibility for managing conflict resolution. However, in some cases it’s not possible for employees to resolve an issue on their own, so they’ll need the assistance of a manager. 

When they are involved, managers should never pick sides or act as a judge. Their role is to facilitate the resolution process, stepping in only when necessary to help each side be heard and understood.

Examples of Workplace Conflict

Workplace conflicts come in a wide range of arguments, disputes, and disagreements. Here are just a few examples of workplace conflict:

  • Leadership Conflicts – People can react very strongly from various styles of leading. This might look like a manager who has a strong hands-on approach clashing against an employee who hates micromanagement and wants freedom to perform their job. 
  • Discrimination – Conflicts based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion, political beliefs, or any other defining category are serious and must be addressed immediately. 
  • Task-Based Conflicts – In a workplace, everyone is connected. If someone isn’t performing their job correctly or on time, it can affect the entire company. For example, if an employee is late in submitting their time card, it becomes a headache for accounting to run payroll. 
  • Personality-Based Conflicts – Everyone is different, and people will not always get along. Personality-based conflicts are when personalities clash. For example, an employee might not get along with their coworker because they love talking about their cats a little too much. 
  • Work Style Conflicts – Even among people that have similar experience and knowledge, individual employees may each have their unique way of doing the same job. One person might love a strict approach and will use spreadsheets to manage their workflow and tasks, while another person will take work as it comes and is more flexible with their time. 



Learn How to Resolve Conflicts with Crucial Conversations

Our Crucial Conversations course will help you learn how to resolve conflicts and communicate better. Click on the link above to learn how you can get the results you want and need from your conversations. 

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

2 thoughts on “How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace”

  1. Reka Domokos

    The article was very informative and helpful – even though I heard it several time in one form or another, it is never enough to be reminded and read about conflict management, especially from different sources. I have taken issue on one thing though in the text: “sexual preference”. That is an “enflaming” expression. Do people “prefer” whom they are attracted to? Can they just pick and chose whether to be straight, gay, bi, pan, etc? Who in their right mind would want to be discriminated against? Is that a “preference” too?

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    […] to VitalSmarts' research, employees squander an average of $1500 and an 8-hour workday for every critical dialogue […]

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