Key Steps to Solving Conflict

13 January 2015 / By Stephan Thieringer


Conflicts are part of life and … business. They are inevitable, even “normal”, yet most of us don’t like them and therefore tend to avoid them. And this is when conflicts become problematic and not so “normal” anymore. Unresolved conflicts in the workplace hurt performance, make people uncomfortable, stressed out and make it hard to get things done. On the other end of the spectrum, when conflicts are courageously faced, intentionally dealt with and handled properly, it shows high leadership skills, it positively impacts productivity, teamwork dynamic, morale, and relationships in general. No need to say more… Let’s dive into our 8 key steps to conflict resolution in the workplace.

1. Get a reality check. Conflicts affect not only yourself and your career, but they also impact your organization, your team, other business relationships and, obviously, the person you are having a conflict with. The best question to ask yourself is this: What are the costs of this conflict in each of the above mentioned areas? Write down the answers. Don’t be shy about the details. Next, move on to the big picture: For each of these areas, what becomes possible when this conflict is resolved? Here again, take your time to think through it and answer very specifically.
2. Be honest with yourself. This can be done by asking yourself 2 simple questions: Are you willing to solve this conflict and how much responsibility are you willing to take for the conflict? Use a 1-10 scale if that helps. If your willingness is low, dive a little deeper. We all want to be right, look good, feel invulnerable, … so what can you give up in order to see this conflict resolved? If you don’t want to accept full responsibility for the conflict, what % is acceptable for you to take? Getting clear on these questions will help you later when you think strategically about conflict resolution options.
3. Move from defensive to understanding. As idealistic as it may sound, understanding not only the other person’s point of view of the situation at hand but also the other person’s needs, aspirations, and motivations is key to any conflict solving strategy. Keep an open mind and ask yourself: “What would the other person say about the conflict?”, “What motivates the other person to solve the conflict?”, “What motivates him/her in general and what are his/her career goals, aspirations?” Don’t feel limited by these questions, instead put yourself in this person’s shoes and see the conflict and the world through his/her own lenses.
4. Don’t forget your own needs. Think about your position. We all have strict boundaries and areas where we are willing to be more flexible (or not). Explore these and eventually circle back to point #2 above to look even deeper at what you are willing to give up in order to see this conflict resolved. Go further by thinking about your own personality and world and compare them to the other person’s. Do you find any common grounds between what motivates you as well as similarities between your respective career goals, communication styles, boundaries, willingness to take responsibility, …
5. Become a communication “specialist”. In a previous blog post dedicated to the 6 aspects to jump start your communication, we emphasized that when it comes to effective communication, one style doesn’t fit all. As we previously wrote “Knowing our own style and developing the ability to adapt to other’s is not only smart but it is also a sign of flexibility, openness and great leadership.” We invite you to revisit this post, full of tips on how to improve your communication style and adapt it to the other person’s processing time, speaking pace, preferred medium, frequency, …
6. Be strategic. I would even dare say, have fun with it, turn conflict resolution into an exciting game. If you’ve been doing the previous exercises thoroughly, now is the time to consider what the best approach, or approaches are to resolve the conflict. Here are a few examples of strategies that you can implement after rating each of them using a 1-5 scale, 1 meaning “no way”, 5 meaning “absolutely”:

  • Apologize and ask to move forward
  • Ask for the other person’s perspective and build a win-win solution.
  • Be willing to listen and be flexible.
  • Say that you want to resolve the conflict and ask what it will take
  • Request something of them and be prepared to offer something in return
  • Share common grounds and develop a sense of common purpose or vision
  • Get a third party to facilitate the discussion
  • etc…

How you will open the conversation and where you will hold the meeting are also good items to think of ahead of time and be strategic about
7. Anticipate. If conflict resolution were an easy game, there wouldn’t be any objections. So, best to plan for them! Make a list of the objections the other person is likely to bring up, plan for what your most effective response will be and, as importantly, get clear on what not to say because you know it will hurt the situation even more. Also anticipate for the things that could go wrong and strategically think of how you will handle the situation should this happen. For example, how will you react if the person gets defensive, aggressive or get an attitude? How will you excuse yourself out of the room if you feel angry or out of control?
​8. Rehearse. Take time to rehearse, ideally with a coach. Have your coach videotape the mock conversation and thoroughly discuss what worked and what didn’t. Brainstorm ways to improve your presence, be more efficient and authentic.

While dealing with conflicts may be one of hardest thing to do, keep in mind this is also a wonderful tool to greater self-awareness, a powerful way to get to know yourself and others better, and a catalyst to take action.

Until soon,

About The Author

Stephan Thieringer