What Is Conflict Resolution? (With Methods and Examples)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 7 November 2022
Published 16 August 2021
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.
Experiencing conflict during your professional career is often inevitable, no matter what industry you work in, though you can learn ways to resolve it. By learning skills to resolve conflict in the workplace, you can help foster a healthy work environment that maintains productivity. Knowing how to work out differences can help you develop leadership, problem-solving and creative thinking skills, plus it can grow your level of compassion, empathy and rationality. In this article, we explore what conflict resolution is, a few methods and five specific strategies to resolve conflict effectively.
What is conflict resolution?
Knowing and understanding what conflict resolution in the workplace is is an essential skill that benefits everyone. It's the process by which you and one or more parties reach an amicable solution to a dispute, difference, conflict or misunderstanding that might arise from diverse opinions, styles or objectives. You might be a mediator, a neutral party or someone involved in the conflict who takes an outside perspective to resolve it. Disagreements are a normal part of a healthy work environment, and knowing how to navigate and resolve them is important.
Some conflicts may be arbitrary, where the outcome of who wins doesn't matter and only the resolution does. Other disagreements might focus on how a company operates, for example. You might experience one of these two kinds of conflict in the workplace:
Individual conflict: Individual conflict happens between people, like colleagues, service providers and customers or between subordinates and supervisors.
Group conflict: Group conflict happens between two larger parties, like separate departments, leadership and a workgroup or a board of directors and top executives.
Example: "Mun Yee and Azri get assigned a project. Because Mun Yee has a heavier workload compared to Azri, Mun Yee assumes Azri can lead the project and skips several meetings and conference calls. Azri isn't aware of Mun Yee's other work and mistakenly interprets her lack of initiative as negligence. Azri expresses frustration by talking about the situation to others during lunch breaks instead of connecting directly with Mun Yee or a leader. Mun Yee overhears Azri complaining to a colleague, which increases the stress and friction. As the conflict goes on, the project work suffers and a manager calls both to a meeting."
What is the process of resolving conflict?
There are many methods, strategies and ways to resolve conflict, though most typically involve these aspects between the parties having differences:
Recognition of an issue
Mutual agreement to find a resolution
The effort to see the opposing perspective
Awareness of triggering events
A willingness to resolve disputes or compromise
Identification of behaviour and attitude changes that reduce conflict
Intervention by mediators, human resource team members or leadership
An agreement on the next steps or resolution plan
Follow-up monitoring of resolution agreements
Accountability or discipline for those who refute conflict resolution
It's important to discern that conflict sometimes might arise from bullying, discrimination, harassment or prejudice. Conflict of this nature can cause lasting harm to a person, team or organisation. While your conflict resolution skills may help navigate and ease situations like this, extreme behaviour often gets documented and handled at a higher level. If you experience or witness conflicts associated with those events, contact your human resources department or your direct supervisor to let them know.
What are 5 conflict resolution strategies?
Here are five strategies you can use to approach conflict resolution successfully in the workplace, with sample examples:
1. Active listening
Active listening is an effective skill to have for any professional setting, though it's often essential to resolving conflict. For example, you might get approached by a coworker about the performance of another employee, and through active listening skills, you can more easily understand the complaint and its validity and how to address it. Ensuring you hear input from both parties is also important in resolving disputes and can help give you a full picture of what happened and why. Here are some skills often associated with active listening:
Verbal and non-verbal communication
Related: 4 Types of Communication
Perspective-taking is your ability to consider another's point of view, whether it's a colleague, a leader or a customer. You might ask yourself, "What are a person's thoughts, observations or triggers for this dispute?" For example, a customer might call the customer service hotline confused about how to use the product. As the customer service representative, you likely know exactly how to use the product, though you might benefit from understanding the customer's confusion. Taking the perspective of the customer might allow you to speak with compassion and patience and help you give easy-to-understand directions to resolve the customer's concern.
Being assertive during conflict might mean taking action on the next steps rather than hoping someone else does, especially if it can help resolve a dispute quicker. For example, you might notice a coworker got upset after a meeting with leadership and you show empathy by asking what's wrong. Through your active listening skills, you determine that the coworker misunderstood a new guideline and help them realise the confusion before any conflict happened. Here are some character traits often associated with being assertive:
4. Empathy and compassion
Exercising empathy and compassion during disputes can help keep them from escalating. You can show empathy and understanding for someone's perspective without necessarily agreeing with it. If you work as a mediator between two disputing people or groups, consider asking them both to describe how the other might feel or think the situation is going. For example, you might ask a salesperson who closed a deal another colleague was pursuing how that makes the other salesperson feel to help them understand the reason for the conflict. Here are some ways to show empathy and compassion when working through disputes:
Ask for feedback
Exercise emotional intelligence
Apply self-control and self-awareness
Understand different perspectives
Welcome other opinions
Be patient and personable
Being responsible and accountable for your actions is an important part of resolving conflict. Following through with the next steps decided upon is also part of being accountable. For example, when you reach a resolution, a human resources (HR) representative might check in with teams a few days later to ensure everyone is still in agreement. Here are common attributes of accountability:
What are conflict resolution methods?
There are several methods you can employ when experiencing discourse in the workplace to resolve it. Here are three specific methods:
You can often arrange your environment to make resolution easier. For example, if you lead two groups experiencing differences, bringing them together in a comfortable setting to discuss the disagreement professionally and productively can help the team resolve their debates and return to productive work. You might also try tactics like an anonymous feedback portal or meeting with team members one-on-one to talk about the challenges they experience. Giving time and space for open discussion can help facilitate a faster end to the conflict. Here are some ways to facilitate a resolution to conflict:
Discussing the dispute
Convening individual or group meetings
Reflecting on feelings and actions
Mediation involves a neutral third party to resolve conflict. As trained professionals, mediators often get called from an outside group, like HR, or an outside entity altogether, like employees for companies solely dedicated to mediation. They provide objective and unbiased perspectives throughout the process to reach an attainable outcome. Mediators have a wide range of skills and can summarise what they hear and observe to affect progress and resolution. Mediation often involves:
Problem-solving skills can help you recognise an issue, conflict or problem and find creative and effective solutions. During conflict resolution, you might use problem-solving and creativity to find compromises between two team members who disagree or an outcome that satisfies both parties. For example, you might reformulate the position and responsibilities of two colleagues prone to conflict to help reduce disputes. Part of the creative problem-solving process involves exploring viable ideas, as people often appreciate the gesture of considering all solutions rather than just the outcome itself. Creative problem-solving often involves:
Verbal and non-verbal communication
Related: Creative Skills in the Workplace
What are examples of conflict resolution skills?
Here are some examples of situational conflict and how you might resolve it through your skills:
A manager calls a meeting between two employees who had a public dispute in the break room.
A colleague asks another coworker to lunch to talk about ways they can work together more harmoniously.
An employee emails an apology to their leader, taking accountability for remarks made during a meeting.
A customer service representative politely explains a refund policy to a dissatisfied customer.
An HR leader facilitates a diversity and inclusion seminar for employees of an acquired office to meet the rest of the team.
A company executive solicits anonymous survey results to learn how employees feel about newly introduced and controversial policies.
Two leaders from combating departments hold separate brainstorming sessions to come up with solutions to ongoing conflict, then bring the groups together to follow up.
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