9 Key steps for conflict resolution at work

By Jennifer Herrity
Oct 13, 2023
Photo credit: Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock/Getty Images

Conflict resolution strategies allow you to increase workplace productivity by mitigating conflict when it first occurs. They also allow you to improve morale and teamwork within the workplace. Developing the skills and mastering the process of resolving conflicts takes time and practice. In this article, we discuss why conflict resolution is so important in the workplace and the steps you can take to quickly resolve conflicts when they arise.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute between two or more people. Conflict can occur between individual coworkers, between managers, between a manager and a member of their team or between a service provider and a customer or client. It can also occur between groups of people, such as between management and their workforce or between entire departments. When a dispute arises, the best course of action is to use negotiation to resolve the problem. Through negotiation, you can resolve the problem quickly, identify a solution all parties agree to and improve the relationship between the groups in conflict.

Why is conflict resolution important?

  • Conflict resolution is essential to maintaining a productive workforce and high workplace morale. Through conflict resolution, you can:
  • Understand more about the ideas, backgrounds and beliefs of another person and gain a new perspective that may even change your own.
  • Better ensure that relationships continue and grow in the future.
  • Find peaceful solutions to everyday challenges and put valuable resources like time, energy, reputation and motivation to better use in the workplace.

How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Here are some steps you can use to resolve conflict in your own workplace:

  1. Understand the conflict

    Before you begin communicating with the other party, fully understand your position in the conflict and the position of the other party. It’s also important to clarify your own interests and those of the other person. Think about what it is that you really care about in the conflict, what your concerns are and what you would like to see happen. Go through the same exercise, thinking about the conflict from the other party’s perspective. Think through what agreements you might be able to reach.

  2. Explore alternatives

    In some cases, the parties are not able to reach an agreeable solution in a conflict. You need to take this into consideration before you sit down with the other party to resolve the issue. Think about at what point you will walk away from the conflict and what you will do if you can’t reach an agreement. Then when you’re brainstorming possible resolutions to the conflict, you can compare each of those solutions to the best alternative that you have already decided upon and rapidly determine if the new solution is better.

  3. Find a private, neutral place

    It’s important to find a quiet and neutral location where you can discuss the conflict in private. Because the goal, ultimately, is to eliminate tension, a private location is essential. A manager’s office or even in a conference room may work well if you can close the doors and speak privately without being interrupted.

  4. Communicate both sides

    Once you have thought through your interests and those of the other party and have located a private, neutral place in which you can speak, it’s time to communicate with one another directly. Here are some tips you can use to make the most of that time together:

    • Be an active listener. Listen actively, rephrasing the statement in your own words to ensure you fully understand what the other party is saying. For example, you could start with, “So you’re saying that… Did I understand you correctly?”
    • Let everyone participate. If there are multiple parties involved in the conversation, allow everyone who wants to contribute to the conversation to do so. People who participate will have a say in how the conflict is resolved and will be helpful in identifying a solution.
    • Avoid forming assumptions. Keep an open mind, asking questions and gathering information so that you fully understand each position.
    • Remain calm. Remain calm, even if the other party becomes emotional. You may even want to apologize if it’s warranted, as it can help diffuse the situation.
  5. Be aware of body language

    Be mindful of your body language, as you are conveying information to the other party without even having to speak. You want to project calmness and open-mindedness. Some ways to do this are to:

    • Maintaining eye contact
    • Being conscious of your expression
    • Relaxing your neck and shoulders
    • Using a neutral tone with a moderate speed and volume
    • Avoiding the use of words that imply an absolute such as “always” or “never”
  6. Identify a common goal

    In this step, both parties agree on the desired outcome for the conflict. Once everyone has moved past the root cause of the problem, they often discover that they are working towards the same goal, they just have different opinions on how to reach that goal. Discuss what you would like to see happen and what your interests are. Invite the other party to do the same. Once you’ve identified the common goal, you can start working towards a resolution.

  7. Use a third-party mediator

    In some cases, it may be useful to use a neutral third party whom everyone trusts to be fair. This can help ensure both parties understand one another fully and, if necessary, continually remind everyone of the ultimate goal so that the conversation and brainstorming session remains productive. Some possible jobs for the mediator are:

    • Listening to both sides and explaining their positions to each other
    • Finding common interests
    • Keeping both parties focused, respectful and reasonable
    • Looking for solutions that would be considered a win-win for both parties
  8. Brainstorm solutions

    Now that you fully understand the conflict, the interests of each party and the common goal for all parties, you can start thinking about possible solutions. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible. Look for win-win solutions or compromises that all parties can agree upon.

    Discuss each idea. Consider what’s involved and whether the idea involves other people who should be consulted. If an idea cannot be used, discuss why it won’t work. If the conflict is between you and someone who works under you, use their ideas first to increase the personal commitment on their part and make them feel heard.

  9. Agree on a plan of action

    Identify different solutions that both you and the other party can accept and see where there is common ground. Ideally, you would identify a solution that’s a win-win for everyone involved. However, if this isn’t possible, look for an idea that everyone can agree with and commit to.

Author bio

Jennifer Herrity is seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting, talent acquisition and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She's a writer, public speaker, video host and workshop facilitator accomplished in creating job exploration programs and events and developing a career services mobile app for college students at the University of Texas at Austin.

Originally published on Indeed’s Career Guide and shared by The Mason Group.