Conflict resolution is a process for settling disputes between people. This process helps people have successful relationships with colleagues, customers and business partners. Understanding conflict resolution can help you settle disputes you have with other people or help others resolve their issues. In this article, we explain what is conflict resolution, note steps for resolving conflict, explain the skills used for the resolution of conflict and suggest ways to improve these skills.
What is conflict resolution?
Resolving conflict is a process that helps two parties who disagree find common ground and settle their differences. After resolving conflict, the two parties can work in harmony together. Conflict may need resolving when people have different personalities, opinions or goals. Conflict resolution is an important skill for people who are neutral mediators, such as managers and team leaders, judges and referees. However, any person who works with others may practise conflict resolution.
How to resolve conflict
Having a clear process for resolving conflict can help you settle disputes in your workplace fairly and efficiently. A transparent conflict resolution conflict process increases customer and employee trust and loyalty. This four-step process can help you resolve any type of workplace conflict:
1. Understand the conflict
Arrange a private meeting with the other person or people involved in the conflict and ask them to explain their side of the issue. Listen patiently while each person explains their point of view. If the conflict directly involves you, explain your perspective calmly and logically so the other person understands you. Once each person has had the opportunity to speak, ask relevant questions to learn more about their conflict. After your discussion, you can have a clear understanding of the facts and each party's opinions and feelings about them.
If you are a neutral mediator who wants to learn more about the conflict, you may like to arrange a meeting with the supervisors of the people involved. Supervisors can tell you about the employees involved, including their personalities and habits. For transparency, Inform employees before arranging this meeting. Ask for their consent to share what you all discussed in your initial meeting.
2. Identify possible outcomes
Once you fully understand the complaint, meet with the people involved to discuss some possible outcomes. Ask the other person or both parties what their desired outcomes are, and consider whether they're appropriate. Sometimes people just want to express their frustrations and can move on from the conflict once they've done so. Other people want further action. For example, a customer may want a discount or a free product to make up for poor service. An employee may want a colleague who makes them feel marginalised to take a diversity training course.
Identifying several possible outcomes helps all parties find a solution they support. Your conflict solutions can help you maintain healthy professional relationships.
3. Agree on a resolution
Consider all the conflict potential solutions and work together to decide on a resolution you all agree on. One or both parties may compromise, but focusing on moving forward in harmony can make this compromise easier. Consider if any additional steps, such as reviewing company policies, could reduce the risk of further conflict.
4. Review the conflict resolution process and the outcome
A week or two after the solution is in place, meet again with the parties involved. Discuss the way the solution is working and how they felt about the conflict resolution process. Following up and showing support for people involved in the process builds workplace rapport and trust. Any feedback you receive can also help you refine your processes to resolve conflict more effectively in the future.
What are conflict resolution skills?
The following skills can help you effectively resolve conflict you and others in your workplace face:
Problem-solving: Think of conflict situations as problems you can solve for better outcomes at work. Problem-solving skills help you assess the facts, feelings and goals of all parties and develop a solution everyone can agree on.
Negotiation: Often people engaged in conflict are reluctant to agree to potential resolutions. Skilled negotiators can help persuade these reluctant parties to accept the solutions and move on from conflict.
Emotional awareness: Emotional awareness helps you understand your feelings so you can talk about them more effectively. It also helps you understand how other people feel so you can help them find the right solutions.
Verbal communication: If you are directly involved with a conflict, your communication skills help you clearly state your perspective. As a mediator, you use your verbal communication skills when asking questions and explaining potential resolution options.
Active listening: Strong listening skills help people hear the concerns of other parties. Active listening confirms you have understood what someone has told you, which minimises the risk of misunderstandings and offence.
Questioning: People skilled at questioning know what to ask to get key information from people engaged in conflict. Their questions are revealing, yet they encourage people to share their views openly and honestly.
Collaboration: Effective conflict resolution requires collaborating with involved parties and, in some cases, a neutral mediator.
Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills help people connect with others and build trust, which can help drive conflict resolution.
Self-management: Resolving conflict requires staying calm and regulating your emotions, even if others become frustrated. Doing this makes constructively engaging with others easier.
Diplomacy: Resolving conflict often involves discussing sensitive topics. Diplomacy can help you do this tactfully.
Decision-making: Resolving conflict involves making clear decisions so all parties can move on from the conflict.
Humour: A sense of humour can reduce tension during the conflict resolution process. Having a good sense of humour can also help you determine how to make jokes without offending others.
Impartiality: People who are impartial can resolve conflict fairly. They listen to the facts and perspectives of all parties involved and make decisions without bias.
Facilitation: Facilitation makes conflict resolution more efficient to minimise disruptions to the workplace. People with strong facilitation skills provide time and space for people to discuss their differences openly and honestly so they can work through them sooner.
Mediation: People who resolve other people's conflicts need mediation skills. These skills help them process the relevant facts and opinions and guide the conflict resolution process to a fast and mutually beneficial solution.
How can you improve your resolution of conflict skills?
Improving your conflict resolution skills can help you work more productively and make you a happier employee. It can also increase your chances of securing a leadership role. You can improve your conflict resolution skills by:
Practising your skills
You can practise many conflict resolution skills throughout your workday. For example, when someone gives you instructions, practise active listening. Listen to the instructions carefully, then summarise what you believe they're saying to confirm you understand. When you're frustrated by people, practise self-management to stay positive and calm. Consider all the ways you can apply your conflict resolution skills and look for opportunities to practise them.
Participating in more group activities
Participating in group activities encourages you to consider other people and work with them towards a common goal. Even minor disagreements provide opportunities to put your conflict resolution skills into practice. Group activities also help you get used to dealing with different personalities. Volunteering for group activities in the office, joining a sports team and working with a charity can all help you become better at working with others and resolving conflict when it arises.
Attending conflict resolution workshops and training programs
Several independent training providers and state and territory governments offer conflict resolution workshops and training programs which can develop your conflict resolution skills. Consider a general conflict resolution program or one focusing on a key conflict resolution skill, such as mediation or negotiation. Some programs are available online while others involve face-to-face instructions. The best training programs demonstrate effective conflict resolution and also the actions which escalate conflict. This allows people to see how proven conflict resolution techniques can calm a situation and lead to the best solutions.
Reading about conflict resolution
Self-directed study can also help you learn good conflict resolution techniques. Seek out books and online resources that explain how to deal better with conflict. Experiment with the techniques they outline to see which approaches work best for you.
Read more: How To Grow Your Conflict Resolution Skills
Working with a mentor
Workplace leaders have valuable experience in conflict resolution management. Approach someone whose conflict resolution style you admire and ask them whether they'll mentor you. Discuss how they have resolved a conflict in the past and ask them for tips for improving your conflict resolution skills. They may even sit in when you're resolving conflict between others and offer feedback on your technique.