Updated Jan 25, 2023
By AMA Staff
Conflict management is one of the core training courses we offer for managers and supervisors. Conflict management is a learned skill and one that improves over time.
What is conflict resolution?
The definition of conflict resolution is to resolve an issue or problem between two or more people, but is there a correct way to handle conflict? What are the effects of poor conflict management? Disagreements in the workplace are inevitable, as employees have different personalities, goals, and opinions.
Benefits of conflict resolution
Being able to solve conflict a work in a healthy and effective manner has incredible benefits, including:
Conflict can be stressful, and everyone handles it differently. Working while under any levels of stress is going to impact employees and their well-being. Resolving conflict at work means all parties involved feel heard and accounted for and can work with ease.
As a manager, your job is to create a safe workplace for your employees. That includes dealing with conflict as it arises. Employees who feel that their manager has their best interest in mind for creating a positive work environment – one that includes accepting differences in a healthy manner – is one that an employee will more likely want to stay with.
While conflict is normal and is bound to occur, how it’s handled is important for long-term success in the relationship. Dismissing conflict outright is grounds for one or both parties to feel ignored and even resentful. Having the right strategies in place for resolving conflict can lead to better relationships because both parties have the tools to come to a resolution in a productive manner.
Conflict resolution strategies in the workplace
Learning how to handle disputes efficiently is a necessary skill for anyone in management - especially those who have recently become new managers - and the key to preventing it from hindering employees' professional growth. Here is the conflict resolution process in five steps.
Step 1: Define the source of the conflict.
The more information you have about the cause of the problem, the more easily you can help to resolve it. To get the information you need, certain resolution strategies can be adopted as follows. Use a series of questions to identify the cause, like, "When did you feel upset?" "Do you see a relationship between that and this incident?" "How did this incident begin?"
As a manager or supervisor, you need to give both parties the chance to share their side of the story. It will give you a better understanding of the situation, as well as demonstrate your impartiality. As you listen to each disputant, a conflict resolution technique is to say, "I see" or "uh huh" to acknowledge the information and encourage them to continue to open up to you.
Step 2: Look beyond the incident.
Often, it is not the situation but the point of view of the situation that causes anger to fester and ultimately leads to a shouting match or other interpersonal conflict.
The source of the workplace conflict might be a minor issue that occurred months before, but the level of stress has grown to the point where the two parties have begun attacking each other personally instead of addressing the real problem. In the calm of your office, you can get them to look beyond the triggering incident to see the real cause. Once again, probing questions will help ease a disagreement, like, "What do you think happened here?" or "When do you think the problem between you first arose?
Step 3: Request solutions.
After getting each party's viewpoint, the next step is to get them to identify how the situation could be changed. Again, question the conflicting parties to solicit their ideas: "How can you make things better between you?" When managing conflict as a mediator, you have to be an active listener, aware of every verbal nuance, as well as a good reader of body language.
You want to get the disputants to stop fighting and start cooperating, and that means steering the discussion away from finger pointing and toward ways of resolving the conflict.
Step 4: Identify solutions both disputants can support.
You are listening for the most acceptable course of action. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only from each other’s perspective, but in terms of the benefits to the organization. For instance, you might suggest the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to effectively address team issues and departmental problems.
Step 5: Agreement.
The mediator needs to get the two parties to shake hands and accept one of the alternatives identified in Step 4. The goal is to reach a negotiated agreement. Some mediators go as far as to write up a contract in which actions and time frames are specified. However, it might be sufficient to meet with the individuals and have them answer these questions: “What action plans will you both put in place to prevent conflicts from arising in the future?” and “What will you do if problems arise in the future?
This mediation process works between groups as well as individuals.
What is the Thomas-Kilmann Model?
The Thomas-Kilmann Model, named after the originators Dr. Kenneth Thomas and Dr. Ralph Kilmann, calls out the five common ways people tend to respond to conflict. Knowing what those are allows individuals to identify with their reaction and aides in resolving the conflict.
Those who are avoidant tend to not deal with the conflict at all. This can look like ignoring, withdrawal, and sidestepping.
The opposite of avoiding, there is an attempt made to resolve the conflict. Working with both parties involved in the conflict to identify the underlying issues to get to a resolution.
Accommodating is when one party adheres to the concerns of the other person entirely when one may not want to. There’s no attempt to come to an understanding for both parties.
Compromising is when both parties come to a mutually agreed upon solution that perhaps only partially satisfies. It isn’t as in depth as collaborating, where the underlying issue gets addressed, but rather works to a peaceful resolution quicker.
With competing, an individual takes on a dominating position in their opinion. There’s little to no collaborating, as the individual is stern in their beliefs.
Individuals can have more than one conflict style and can vary depending on the conflict itself. Knowing the various ways people can engage in conflict allows for the individuals involved and/or the meditator to help bring the conflict to a productive resolution.
Related AMA Courses, Seminars, and Workshops
AMA provides industry-leading courses in relevant business topics. Interested in improving your conflict resolution skills? Try one of the below courses:
About the Author(s)
American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.