How to Resolve Conflict in 8 Steps (Plus Types of Conflict)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Conflict resolution is an essential skill for anyone with a leadership role, including individuals in management. It involves identifying the reasons leading to the conflict, finding ways to solve it and preventing it from happening again. Learning how to resolve conflict can help you create a peaceful working environment where every team member feels valued, which can increase productivity in the workplace. In this article, we define conflict resolution, explain the types of conflict and provide eight steps to resolving conflict.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the act of finding an acceptable solution to a misunderstanding or disagreement between two or more members of a team. It requires active listening, problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence and empathy. There are several types of workplace conflicts that may arise in the work environment, including:

  • Task conflicts: Task conflicts are directly related to employees with differing opinions on how to divide work, follow specific protocols or interpret results. For example, two or more marketing specialists might disagree on how to interpret metrics to determine the success of a marketing strategy.

  • Relationship conflicts: Relationship conflicts typically arise due to personality differences between employees. Resolving such disputes involves listening to each individual's point of view and finding common interests among team members.

  • Value conflicts: Value conflicts might occur between two or more people who believe in different or opposing values, such as ethics, norms and other personal beliefs. Resolving value conflicts involves leading all employees to respect each other's beliefs.

Related: What Is Conflict Resolution? (With Methods and Examples)

How to resolve conflict

Here are eight steps on how to resolve conflict:

1. Encourage employees to resolve the conflict

You may feel the urge to resolve every conflict in the office, but there are a few instances where it's best to let employees discuss issues among themselves. This allows them to learn about each other's values and ethics without feeling as though you're micromanaging the team. Letting employees handle disagreements without intervention also shows that you trust their judgement, which may motivate team members to work towards practical solutions.

You might monitor and evaluate the situation if colleagues engage in social discourse about different ethical beliefs and backgrounds. You may find that constructive conversation doesn't require intervention. At that time, you can then intervene to find a solution if the situation escalates into a conflict.

Related: How to Help Without Micromanaging Your Team in 11 Steps

2. Know when to intervene

While it's best to let colleagues attempt to resolve the conflict independently, situations can escalate and require intervention. You might decide that the issue warrants based on your observations or colleagues reporting the situation. If the company has a policy or handbook with a section dedicated to conflict resolution, you can use it to guide your future decisions. Consider these tips when deciding the best time to intervene:

  • reports of aggressive behaviour or bullying

  • use of threatening or explicit language

  • reports of discrimination or harassment

  • demonstration of disrespectful or insulting behaviour or language

  • interruption of tasks or reduction in productivity

Related: Important Roles and Responsibilities of a Team Leader

3. Create a safe space

Creating a safe space for everyone involved in a dispute is important to encourage a conversation that leads to a successful outcome. Impartiality during this exercise can help team members understand that you support them equally. Here are some points to consider when creating a safe space:

  • Encourage healthy conflict. Inform colleagues that healthy conflict about differing opinions is acceptable, and emphasise the importance of setting boundaries when engaging in such conversations.

  • Change the narrative. Encourage colleagues to view a conflict as an opportunity for personal growth.

  • Set rules. Inform the team members involved that it's important to actively listen to everyone's viewpoints without interruption to resolve the conflict respectfully.

  • Choose a quiet location. Find a quiet room away from observers to encourage the employees to share their feelings without fear of judgement from workmates.

Related: How to Build Good Working Relationships (Plus Tips)

4. Identify the cause of the conflict

Identifying the cause of the conflict can help you to decide how to proceed. Ask each team member for their opinion on the reason for the disagreement and an explanation of how it escalated. Listen to their responses and evaluate the conflict to decide the best way to proceed.

For example, if you're working with a task conflict, you might address each individual's concerns and provide clarity on team members' areas of responsibility and your expectations of them. If you're facing a value or relationship conflict, you might encourage each person to give their point of view and explain why they reacted in a specific way.

Related: Conflict Management Skills (With Definition and Examples)

5. Let each person share their thoughts

Encourage each person to share their thoughts on what happened and listen actively. Giving everyone involved a chance to express their opinions respectfully promotes equality. Ask questions to show that you care about their concerns. Remain neutral throughout the discussion. This exercise allows each person to understand others' perspectives, which could lead them to a compromise.

Consider inviting a mediator, such as a human resources (HR) representative or an individual from an external company that offers mediation services. They may provide additional advice and help you develop conflict resolution and preventative strategies for future disagreements.

Related: 14 Examples on How to Start a Conversation in the Workplace

6. Facilitate a goal-setting discussion

Once everyone involved in the conflict shares their opinions about the misunderstanding, encourage them to suggest solutions. Ask them what their ideal outcome might be following this conflict. This may lead all parties to realise that they share goals and interests. Setting a common goal among team members allows you to begin the process of listing possible solutions to find a compromise that appeases everyone.

Whenever someone offers a suggestion, discuss its advantages and limitations to help you make a decision. Encourage the team members' participation by telling them there are no bad ideas. Let the participants choose the solution. If they cannot find a compromise, you might discuss the issue further with each person to reach a resolution.

Related: How to Enhance Collaboration and Teamwork (Plus Benefits)

7. Determine each individual's responsibilities

Once all parties agree, help them determine their responsibilities to prevent further conflict. For example, with a value conflict, each party could arrange to have deeper conversations to educate others about their opinions to reach an understanding. Alternatively, they could decide not to have further discussions about these beliefs. For a task conflict, ensure that at the end of the debate, each person knows their role regarding that task and the person to consult if they continue to disagree.

In the days and weeks after the conflict, consider following up with all parties to confirm that they're still satisfied with the solutions they suggested. You could also host a meeting with everyone in the department or company to discuss these solutions and share how they can apply them when experience conflict at work.

Related: How to Establish Team Roles and Responsibilities

8. Create preventative strategies for future conflicts

Once you resolve the dispute, think about the cause and assess ways to prevent such conflicts from occurring in the future. Here are a few strategies you might consider:

  • Organise team-building exercises. Consider planning for team-building activities outside working hours where everyone participates in enjoyable activities, such as board games, holiday contests and trivia games. This allows team members to get to know each other and promotes friendship, reducing the chance of conflict.

  • Encourage spending time outside work. You might encourage team members to meet outside work and spend time together, perhaps by going for beverages after work or sharing meals.

  • Suggest personality tests. Consider suggesting personality tests and encouraging colleagues to share their results to learn how each person thinks. This can help team members understand how best to interact with different people to reduce the likelihood of conflict.

  • Consult third parties. Third parties may include HR representatives or mediators from external companies. Ask them to help you design effective preventative strategies.

  • Change the way you perceive conflicts. Accepting that conflict is a common workplace occurrence allows you to use debates as learning opportunities for the team.

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