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10 Steps to Conflict Resolution

Arguments at work aren’t necessarily bad.  It’s what happens afterwards that you’ve got to worry about.

Conflict happens. It happens everywhere: between friends, in the classroom, around the conference table. The good news is that it doesn’t have to damage friendships or business deals. Knowing how to resolve conflict, wherever it happens, creates confidence and eases stress.


    Care enough about your own well-being, your relationships with co-workers and your agency, to talk about what is bothering you at work, to talk about conflict. Don’t take it home or stuff it away. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away. It makes it fester.

    Start preparing to resolve conflict by checking your own behavior. What are your hot buttons? Have they been pushed? How have you handled the situation so far? What is your own responsibility in the matter?

    Own up. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict. Do a little soul searching, a little self-examination, before talking it out with the other party.

    Then plan what you want to say.  Don’t memorize a speech, but it helps to visualize a successful, peaceful conversation.


    The sooner you resolve conflict, the easier it is to resolve. Don’t wait. Don’t let the matter boil into something bigger than it is.

    If a specific behavior has caused the conflict, promptness gives you an example to refer to and keeps you from building up hostility. It also gives the other person the best chance of understanding the specific behavior about which you want to talk.


    Talking about conflict has almost no chance of succeeding if it’s carried out in public. Nobody likes to be embarrassed in front of peers or made an example of in public. Your goal is to eliminate the tension created by conflict. Privacy will help you. Remember: praise in public, correct privately.

    Neutral places are best. However, if you need to emphasize your authority over a direct report, a manager’s office may be appropriate. A manager’s office is also acceptable if there is no other private place to meet. Try to make the office as neutral as possible by sitting so that there is no table or other obstruction between you and the other person, if possible. This removes physical barriers to open communication.


    Be aware of your body language. You convey information without ever opening your mouth to speak. Know what message you are sending the other person by how you’re holding your body. You want to convey peace here, not hostility or closed-mindedness.

    • Maintain eye contact.
    • Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
    • Be conscious of your expression. Show you care.
    • Use a “Please pass the salt and pepper” voice: neutral tone, moderate speed and volume, conversational.
    • Avoid absolutes like “never” and “always.”

    Nine times out of 10, the real conflict is about feelings, not facts. You can argue about facts all day, but everyone has a right to his or her own feelings. Owning your own feelings, and caring about others’, is the key when talking about conflict.

    Remember that anger is a secondary emotion. It almost always arises from fear.

    It’s critical here to use “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You make me so angry,” try something like, “I feel really frustrated when you…”

    And remember to talk about behaviors, not personalities.


    Give specific details, including your own observations, valid documentation, if appropriate, and information from reliable witnesses, if appropriate.

    You’ve shared your own feelings about the situation, described the problem, and expressed interest in resolving the matter. Now simply ask the other party how he or she is feeling about it. Don’t assume. Ask.

    Discuss what caused the situation. Does everyone have the information they need? Does everyone have the skills they need? Does everyone understand expectations? What are the obstacles? Does everyone agree on the desired outcome?

    If necessary, use a problem analysis tool or a can/can’t/will/won’t performance analysis.


    Listen actively and remember that things are not always what they seem. Be ready to be open to the other person’s explanation. Sometimes, getting all the information from the right person changes the entire situation.

    Be ready to respond with compassion. Be interested in how the other person sees the situation differently than you do.

    See CSQuest article How to Be a Good Active Listener.


    Ask the other party for his or her ideas for solving the problem. The person is responsible for his or her own behavior and has the ability to change it. Resolving conflict is not about changing another person. Change is up to each individual.

    Know how you want the situation to be different in the future. If you have ideas the other person doesn’t mention, suggest them only after the person has shared all of his or her ideas.

    Discuss each idea. What’s involved? Does the person need your help? Does the idea involve other people who should be consulted? Using the other person’s ideas first, especially with direct reports, will increase personal commitment on his or her part. If an idea can’t be used for some reason, explain why.


    Say what you will do differently in the future and ask the other party to verbalize his or her commitment to change in the future.

    With direct reports, know what goals you want to set with the employee and how and when you will measure progress. It’s important that the person verbalize what will change in a specific manner. Set a follow-up date with direct reports, and explain future consequences for failure to change, if appropriate.


    Thank the other party for being open with you and express confidence that your work relationship will be better for having talked the problem out.

Keep this quote from Megan Chance, author of The Spiritualist, in mind as it illustrates a good approach to conflict resolution.

“Imagine you come upon a house painted brown. What color would you say the house was?”
“Why brown, of course.”
“But what if I came upon it from the other side, and found it to be white?”
“That would be absurd. Who would paint a house two colors?”
He ignored my question. “You say it’s brown, and I say it’s white. Who’s right?”
“We’re both right.”
“No,” he said. “We’re both wrong. The house isn’t brown or white. It’s both. You and I only see one side. But that doesn’t mean the other side doesn’t exist.
To not see the whole is to not see the truth.”