Conflict is an unavoidable, normal and natural aspect of any relationship. Conflict
at work, when dealt with constructively, strengthens relationships and enables the
development of new business opportunities. Alternatively, conflict can be a negative
force that destroys relationships and organizations while killing creativity. With
the stakes being so high, learning how to manage conflict is a powerful skill that
will provide you great return from the investment of your time and effort.
The ten steps below will help you turn areas of conflict with colleagues into agreement
and the basis of stronger relationships
1. Stop and review your behavior. If you find yourself in a situation that is escalating
…STOP. If you or others have become emotionally charged, take a break to give yourselves
time to become more objective. Consider how your behavior is impacting others and/or
fueling the conflict. (E.g. If you habitually "blow up" during conflict, people will
build walls around you which will impact your ability to succeed both personally
and professionally.) Building awareness of how you respond to conflict is the first
step to strengthening your skills and changing old habits that may be getting in
2. Gain perspective. What is the conflict/issue really about? People in conflict
automatically assume that they know what the conflict is about. But generally our
perspectives get so clouded with assumptions and misinterpretations of other's behavior
that we lose our objectivity. To gain clearer perspectives, ask yourself these questions:
Is this issue an isolated event or the latest in a series of issues that reveal a
larger difference? Is the disagreement over methods or goals? Is this a conflict
over deeply held values or preferences? What are the key factors that are preventing
me from understanding other's point of view? Are there outside influences that are
driving the conflict? What are the component parts of the issue? What needs to
be addressed first? What do I feel most strongly about? What am I willing to compromise
3. Deal with conflict do not avoid it. Pretending that there is not a problem or
choosing not to deal with a problem is very common and understandable. However conflict
does not go away by itself, it may disappear below the surface, but unresolved conflict
will fester, damaging relationships, and impacting your business.
4. Find a neutral space. Find a neutral setting away from the public eye, where you
will not be watched or interrupted, to meet with the person, or people, directly
involved in the conflict. Keep the number of players to a minimum so you can focus
on the key issues. If necessary, bring others in after some initial areas of agreement
have been reached.
5. Have a good opening. Open the conversation by communicating your commitment to
resolving the issue and desire to take a fresh approach. State your opening in such
a way that it sets the tone for cooperation and partnership.
6. Maintain self-awareness and control. Throughout the process observe your own
reactions as well as those of others. Look out for old habits that have escalated
conflict in the past and choose to act differently. Don't allow others to blow wind
into your sails. Remember you have control of your reactions. You cannot stop the
wind but you can let it spill off your sails! Maintaining your calm, even when you
feel like your 'buttons' are being pushed, is a powerful skill that will help you
achieve your goals in all aspects of your life.
7. Clarify and acknowledge. Clarify each other's perceptions of the issue(s). Discuss
the issues you considered in step #2. This is not about trying to find out who is
at fault or who is right. Instead, listen for new information and fresh perspectives.
Try to imagine how it feels to stand in the other person's shoes. Identify those
areas where all parties share the same goal or point of view. Resolution often comes
from building on areas of commonality. Also, focusing on areas where there is agreement
both strengthens the desire to solve issues and puts the disagreement in context.
8. Communicate respectfully. Respect is at the heart of building business relationships.
Communicating respectfully starts with accepting that people will have different
perspectives and that your role is to try to understand their viewpoint. Make sure
that you really listen and that your approach is based on curiosity and compromise,
not blame and determination.
9. Resolution. Work together to brainstorm several specific options that could resolve
this issue. Be creative. Look for options that will be a win/win solution for all.
Once you have reached agreement on how you will resolve the issue, take time to
clarify the specific actions and individual responsibilities. Agree on a time to
check in with each other and discuss progress.
10. Stalemate. There will be times when despite your best intentions and skills,
conflict will escalate or an acceptable solution will not be found. One way to move
forward is to agree on a temporary resolution by identifying small steps that both
sides could start with, to move towards resolving the bigger problem. The action
of taking small steps builds trust and in time may lead to resolution of the bigger
problem. However sometimes other challenging issues get in the way of successful
problem resolution. In these cases bring in the help of a professional mediator
or unbiased third party who can meet with all the parties separately and then facilitate
a healthy conflict resolution process.