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Practice constructive and respectful conflict resolution.

April 22, 2011

Dealing with conflict can be one of the most difficult challenges in our careers. When we perceive someone else’s behavior as annoying, disrespectful or harmful, it’s difficult to address the issue constructively.

We might make a joke out of the situation, hoping the other person will catch on and change their behavior. This tactic sound less confrontational than directly addressing conflict, however in my experience it has never lead to a solution. Other people either don’t realize we are upset, or are left wondering what, exactly, is upsetting us.

Another school of thought is to politely offer suggestions for change or improvement. Again, this method sounds non-confrontational and even helpful, but it rarely comes across as such to someone else. Many people do not appreciate being corrected and even “helpful” suggestions are likely result in defensiveness.

So what types of conflict resolution lead to resolution? The following techniques have worked for me in addressing and resolving conflict in the workplace:

Take ownership of your emotions. You may want to blame the effects of conflict on someone else’s behavior, but at the end of the day you are the one who has to live with how you are affected by the situation. Acknowledge your reaction and recognize that your reaction belongs to you. Other people affect our lives, and we ultimately decide how to manage our response.

Put the situation in perspective. Ask yourself, “how important is it?” Will you remember the current conflict six months from now? Recognizing that we all have faults, is the conflict serious enough to warrant a confrontation? What would happen if you didn’t address the situation? What is the best and worst case scenario if you did? Decide what, if anything, you have to loose or gain.

THINK Are your words and actions Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind? Take a moment to THINK about your participation in the conflict. When I THINK through a problem and can answer “yes” to all five qualifiers I know I’m treating myself and others with respect.

Ask for assistance. If you’ve determined you need to confront another person, try asking for their help instead of expressing your frustrations over their behavior. Most people are much more likely to help when asked and less likely to change when accused or demanded. You might say something like, “Thanks for meeting with me. It’s important to me that we have a positive working relationship and I hope you agree. I’ve been having a difficult time lately and think you may be able to help me. Would you be willing to do that?”

Brainstorm solutions. Instead of insisting on your ideal resolution, invite the other person to offer their ideas to solve the problem. Be open to someone else’s ideas and share your own. Together you have the opportunity to discover a solution that works for everyone and allows all parties to feel engaged and respected.

Express gratitude. Sincerely thank your co-worker for their time and consideration in addressing the conflict. Recognize that they are giving of themselves to you and you can give them the gift of gratitude.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 10:04 am

    Hi Chrysta,
    I really like your article! If there’s one thing I constantly struggle with regarding my development as a leader, its having difficult conversations with friends and co-workers. Your article won’t get me to where I want to go in a hearbeat, but it does give some really helpful pointers. I particularly like the part that speaks about using jokes or polite offers. I’m HUGE on those… 😀 Great job once again.

    • April 22, 2011 11:00 am

      Thanks for your comments! I appreciate feedback and knowing that my entries are helpful to others.

      In my experience handling conflict in a leadership role is even more complicated than handling conflict at the peer level. As a manager, I feel an additional responsibility for specific tasks that need to be done and need to be performed a certain way and/or to acheive an exact result. I struggled to manage this at first, and unfortunately I believe I caused my employees to struggle, too.

      Fortunately when I tried addressing the issue in a different way I ended up with a more positive result. It’s very important to get the other person’s agreement to make a change and to allow the other person to be part of the solution. Doing so engages and involves the other individual, respects their efforts and ideas, and allows them to build confidence through making improvements and solving problems. I also realized that even though I may be a leader or manager does not mean I know every possible route to a successful result. Allowing employees to give their feedback and input helps me expand my knowledge and recognize new ideas and methods for solving problems. It’s a win-win!

  2. April 26, 2011 7:28 pm


    I appreciate your excellent suggestions for addressing conflict. It takes quite a lot to pause and think before we speak, but it always pays off. If we commit to mindfulness and kindness in communication, it will become second nature over time.

    Good luck with all your positive transitions.

    • April 26, 2011 9:05 pm

      Thanks for your reply, Sandra. I agree that kind and loving behavior becomes easier with practice.

      In my experience it’s easy to look at someone else with judgment and a sense of entitlement, but even if my judgment and entitlement were valid, it still doesn’t promote productive communication. I’m grateful to have learned improved methods for relating to others, and taking care of myself!


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