What are conflict resolution skills? Definition and examples
When multiple people collaborate in the same work environment, conflict may arise from different opinions or priorities. People with strong conflict resolution skills are often rational, empathetic and tactful, which allows them to mediate with others. Many employers value team members with conflict resolution skills because their ability to resolve disagreements may improve morale and productivity in the workplace. In this article, we review top conflict resolution skills, describe common workplace conflicts and share instructions for how to apply conflict resolution skills to a real situation.
What are conflict resolution skills?
Conflict resolution skills are the abilities you use to diffuse stressful situations, manage disagreements and find mutually beneficial outcomes to disputes or misunderstandings. You can use conflict resolution skills to manage your interactions with others or to provide outside mediation for a conflict between other parties. Conflict management skills are especially useful in leadership roles or positions where you work with clients and customers directly. They can help you negotiate deals, discover better methods for completing tasks, find mutual understanding between multiple perspectives and objectively consider the best solution for any situation.
Types of workplace conflicts
There are many work situations that require conflict resolution skills. Understanding the different types of conflict in the workplace can help you identify potential conflicts and determine the best way to apply your skills. Here are some of the situations where professional conflicts may occur:
Conflicts between co-workers
Co-workers on the same team may have professional and interpersonal conflicts at work. Conflicts between colleagues may happen when they disagree about the best way to accomplish a task, have conflicting priorities or simply have clashing personalities. Because co-workers may have the same level of authority, it can be challenging for them to determine the best way to resolve a conflict. To be productive as a team, co-workers need to consider their shared goals and make compromises to support the group.
Conflicts between employees and customers
If a customer is unhappy with a product or service, conflict can occur between them and company employees. Conflicts between customers and employees are common in front-facing positions related to customer support or the service industry. Typically, employees strive to resolve conflicts with customers to ensure satisfaction while still upholding company policies. This requires employees to communicate expectations tactfully and acknowledge the customer's perspective.
Conflicts between managers and subordinates
Managers may experience conflicts with the people they supervise due to contrasting working styles or disagreements about delegating tasks. Team members and managers may argue about reasonable goals and expectations for their work. More independent employees may experience conflict with managers that use an authoritarian leadership style, while some employees may clash with managers because they want more guidance and support. Because managers and supervisors have authority in the workplace, they typically require advanced conflict resolution skills to support their team.
Examples of conflict resolution skills
Here are some of the common conflict resolution skills you can use to become a better mediator in the workplace:
Listening actively refers to paying attention as other people speak and engaging with what they have to say. Active listening enables you to process the meaning of someone else's words and understand their perspective. Using active listening can help you determine the true source of a conflict and empathise with each person involved in a conflict.
Problem-solving skills allow you to find creative solutions to issues that work for everyone in a situation. You can use problem-solving skills to discover the best compromise for a conflict and prevent similar problems in the future. Problem-solving also helps you use your resources wisely and conduct research to find innovative methods for conflict resolution. In the workplace, you can use independent problem-solving to be successful during a conflict or use collaborative problem-solving to mediate issues in a group setting.
Effective communication is vital to successful conflict resolution because it enables everyone to set clear expectations about their actions and choices. Be clear and accurate when using either written or verbal communication for others to understand you easily. Use communication to verify information, ask follow-up questions and express your opinions honestly to avoid conflicts in the future.
Responsibility involves holding yourself accountable for the decisions you make and the outcome of your behaviour. Being accountable and responsible is important to conflict resolution because it demonstrates integrity to everyone involved and shows that you're willing to follow through with your choices and suggestions. When coming to a resolution for a conflict, taking responsibility ensures that you follow through with the proposed solution and accept the results of the mediation.
Having a team-oriented mindset and knowing how to work with others is an important skill for preventing conflicts from occurring and resolving them quickly when they do happen. If you have good teamwork skills, it's easier to help motivate team members, find common goals and determine cohesive roles for everyone on a team. Being proactive about helping others, sharing verbal validation and asking for equal input from team members promotes positive morale and open communication, which can decrease conflicts long-term.
Conflicts and disagreements can be stressful, so successful conflict resolution involves stress management and coping skills. Whether you're managing a personal conflict or mediating an issue between other people, it's important to have effective mechanisms for managing your own stress. This will help you figure out ways to help others cope with their frustrations while also staying calm in a tense situation. Using stress management techniques can also help you maintain a positive attitude and avoid conflicts from misunderstandings or personal frustration.
Emotional intelligence is an essential conflict resolution skill because it allows you to feel and understand what others feel. People with good emotional intelligence skills also understand how their actions influence others. Developing emotional intelligence involves actively working to understand your colleagues' viewpoints, possible misunderstandings, motivations and needs. Recognising peoples' emotions and your own feelings during a conflict can help you manage emotional reactions and develop solutions that work for everyone.
Related: Important workplace social skills
It is easier for people to follow and listen to you when you are a leader. When you demonstrate leadership skills, others may trust you to mediate their conflicts and appreciate the solutions you offer. This makes it essential to show your leadership capabilities so that others can tell you about how they feel during a disagreement and listen to you explain the other side of the conflict. They may also be more open to following the solutions you propose.
Neutrality and impartiality
When resolving conflicts for others, it's important to show neutrality and impartiality. This involves giving equal, fair consideration to the perspective of each person in the conflict. By showing fairness, you establish trust with others and validate your position as a neutral third party. When mediating a conflict, give everyone equal time to share their opinions and use all perspectives to generate a compromise that benefits everyone.
Remaining patient and maintaining a calm demeanour is important during a conflict, especially when others have heightened emotions. Being patient can help you maintain your own emotional stability and give others the time and space they need to calm down and think logically during a disagreement. Your patience prevents hasty decisions and allows you to collect all of the information you need to make logical decisions about a conflict.
Being an assertive person allows you to recognise when you need to take action and initiate steps that can lead to resolving a conflict. If you are the team leader or supervisor, you can convene a meeting comprising the warring parties. As a junior employee, you can seek the colleague you have conflicted with and work with them to come up with ways to co-exist in a more harmonious manner. Knowing when to be assertive and when to concede to others is also an important conflict-resolution skill.
How to resolve a conflict
You can follow the steps below to resolve any conflict that you face at the workplace:
1. Remain calm and ensure a steady body language
Prior to starting the process of conflict resolution, it is important to observe several measures that can help you calm down, such as taking a few deep breaths. You can also sit down, rather than stand, and pull your shoulders back to increase your comfort levels and calmness. When sitting, avoid crossing either your arms or feet and keep them open with the feet resting flat on the floor.
Related: What is attribution theory?
2. Get a comfortable, private area to discuss the conflict
Conflict and the conflict resolution process can both be highly distracting to other company activities. Therefore, it's wise to find an area where you can handle the issues without distractions or distracting other employees. You should have equal seating arrangements for the individuals involved in the conflict so everyone feels comfortable during the conflict-resolution session.
3. Acknowledge the problem
Start the conflict resolution process by directly stating the issue and having everyone share their perspective about the conflict. This step is important because it sets expectations for the conversation and allows everyone to express their grievances. By acknowledging the problem, you open a healthy line of communication and determine the cause of any other issues.
4. Seek a solution
Once you and all the parties involved in the conflict acknowledge that there is a problem, identify the need for a solution. When one party is not ready to come on board with the solution, you may have to take them aside to understand their concerns separately, then re-join the group. Ask everyone to share their ideal outcome and determine which solutions are most realistic and fair. Seek out compromises and ask everyone to agree to the solution.
5. Check in to make sure the solution lasts
Follow up with everyone to determine if the solution was a success. Ask for feedback about the conflict resolution process and identify any ongoing issues that still require additional attention. If there are issues with the solution, consider escalating the conflict to a manager or asking for additional help to adjust the outcome.
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