Conflict resolution in the workplace | Main region | UB

Conflict resolution skills in the workplace

conflict resolution hero banner
Conflict in the workplace is unfortunate but unavoidable. Teams consist of people of different personalities, styles and opinions. While this drives innovation and performance, these differences also inevitably lead to conflict between colleagues. 
While most people try to avoid uncomfortable conflict, ignoring it can harm your working relationships, job satisfaction, performance and mental health and wellbeing. It’s much better to take steps to resolve conflict quickly and effectively.

What is conflict resolution?  

Conflict resolution is the process in which two or more parties in a disagreement come to a peaceful solution. Often, this involves finding a middle ground, a compromise or a deal that everyone can agree with and that solves the problem in a productive way. 
Conflict resolution may be undertaken verbally, such as an informal conversation or a formal meeting, or in writing. 
If the conflict cannot be resolved or the matter has legal ramifications, an internal or external mediator or neutral third party may be engaged to oversee the process. 

Why are conflict resolution skills important?

Conflict resolution skills help you perform your duties smoothly, productively and satisfactorily. By resolving conflict that may otherwise damage professional relationships, you’ll stop disagreements from escalating, leading to a happier, more harmonious and productive workplace.    
From your employer’s perspective, workers who can resolve conflicts have fewer disruptions in their day, build better relationships with colleagues, work collaboratively and productively, and are more highly engaged.
Conflict resolution skills are useful for everyone but are particularly important for leaders and managers who oversee a team and need to recognise and resolve tense or volatile situations before they get out of hand.

Types of conflict resolution skills 

Successful conflict resolution requires several skills. Following are the core conflict management skills.

Active listening

To resolve conflict, you must firstly identify what the problem is that is causing the conflict. Use active listening skills to understand what other people have to say. By listening to their perspective, they’ll also be encouraged to listen to your side of the story. Hearing them out is important – do not interrupt but wait until they have finished speaking before responding.


Empathy is required to put yourself in the shoes of other parties involved. Take the time to see things from another’s point of view and understand their feelings, rather than solely your own feelings or your side of the argument.

A positive attitude

Displaying a positive attitude, both verbally and through your body language, can help establish that roadblocks can be overcome, and a solution found. A positive attitude will reassure all parties involved that their stance is being taken seriously. In contrast, a negative attitude to conflict can lead to long-term damage to the work environment.


Patience is another conflict resolution skill since the true cause of a problem can take time to uncover, particularly if those involved are stubborn or embarrassed about revealing their frustration. Equally, it can take time to come to a solution everyone can agree with. 


Objectivity will help you see all sides of the conflict, not just your own, and remain focused on the problem causing the conflict. It is also a skill that will help you remain calm, ask questions, raise suggestions and not rush to conclusions.

Open communication

Keeping lines of communication open between all parties after the conflict has been resolved helps to ensure the solution is adopted and new issues do not arise.

How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Do not fear conflict. Use the following conflict resolution methods to help you manage conflict and find a suitable solution for all involved parties.

Identify the source of conflict

While you may have a clear idea of your side of the conflict, ask questions until you have a clear picture of what needs are not being met on the other side. Remember to actively listen and give everyone a chance to share their views and concerns. 
Make sure you look beyond the surface issue to what is buried beneath it. Conflict can be created by unrealistic expectations, poor communication, poor management, unclear job roles, change or inadequate training – not just personality issues. 


At this point, you may need to investigate the situation further. Once you know the root cause of the conflict, you can address any non-negotiables. For example, operational policy could provide a clear path through the conflict or may prevent some actions being taken.

Brainstorm solutions

Then, you can come up with strategies to resolve the conflict. Have everyone involved suggest their own ideas to encourage ownership and respect. Try to keep the focus on the common goal and how you can all work together to achieve it.

Agree on an action plan

Once strategies are agreed to, implement them. Determine individual responsibilities to achieve the common goal and resolve the conflict.

Set a review date

Set a date when actions will be reviewed. At that time, if all parties are happy with the outcome, no further changes need to be made. However, if there is still resentment, you will need to address the conflict again.

Be prepared to negotiate

Conflict resolution does not always lead to a win/win for all parties. You may need to concede ground and the solution may not be the outcome you hoped for. 
However, always respect and abide by the outcome. Do not agree to a solution, then afterwards undermine it by complaining or sabotaging it.
Similarly, not all conflicts can be resolved, so be prepared to give in and move forward, if required.

How to improve conflict resolution skills

Like any skill, conflict resolution skills need to be practised. To begin with, focus on one of the skills listed above and find ways to practise it in your work day. For example, actively listen to other people and let others speak before you in meetings if you are usually the first to raise ideas. 
Identify colleagues or leaders who deescalate situations. Watch their approach to conflict resolution and learn from them.  
You can also utilise a range of online resources to help you develop your conflict resolution skills. For example, video tutorials, blogs, podcasts and online learning courses, such as Hays Learning

Four conflict resolution skills examples

Scenario #1: 

Your colleague always leaves their dirty dishes in the office kitchen sink, expecting someone else to clean them, much to your aggravation. 
Conflict resolution: 
Rather than telling your colleague to clean up after themselves, ask them why they are leaving their dishes for someone else to clean. It may have been their intention to leave them to soak then return to them later. Outline your concerns with dirty dishes in the sink and propose a solution, such as leaving them off to the side so others can use the sink. In this way, you are objective, listen to their point of view, positively outline your point of view, and display empathy for their situation.

Scenario #2:

You are in a team meeting and one of your colleagues has an idea to solve a problem. Meanwhile, another colleague refutes it, insisting their idea is the best solution. The two of them argue, with the conversation becoming more heated, while the rest of the team becomes increasingly embarrassed at their behaviour.
Conflict resolution: 
Interject to stop the situation from escalating further. Acknowledge how the situation may be making other people in the meeting feel, as well as both of their suggestions. Thank them for their ideas and their passion. Ask them one at a time to outline their idea without interruption, perhaps specifically asking them to mention their counter debate to some of the negative claims that were raised in their argument. You do not need to be convenor of the meeting to take this action. 
If the decision does not need to be made immediately, wait.  Allow both parties to calm down and view the situation objectively. Consider meeting with both parties individually after the meeting to ask what caused them to react that way – there could be further conflict that needs addressing. At the next meeting, it may be useful for the convenor to remind everyone of the behaviour that is expected or introduce a different process in which people can speak about their ideas.

Scenario #3: 

A customer is angry that a mistake has been made and is demanding a full refund.
Conflict resolution: 
Thank the customer for raising the issue and request more details about their concern. Try to get a full account as to what has occurred. If the customer is getting frustrated, try to remain calm and steer the conversation back towards the facts. If an error has been made, know when to apologise and provide a remedy. If there has not been a mistake or failure and you are in the right, and the customer is still insistent, you may be able to present other options to them such as an exchange, or a method for them to make a formal complaint. Also consider whether to back down. Sometimes, managing conflict involves making a sacrifice.

Scenario #4: 

One of your direct reports has requested a private meeting with you, in which they outline how difficult one of your other direct reports is to work with – they are always undermining others, leaving someone else to do the hardest tasks, and make inappropriate comments. 
Conflict resolution: 
Ask your employee for specific examples of the behaviour and make notes of what occurred, when, and if there are any witnesses. Let them know you will investigate. Have a separate meeting with your other direct report to get their side of the story, assuring them your investigation is objective and will respect their feelings. If disciplinary action is not warranted and there has been miscommunication, for example, bring both parties together to discuss any issues raised, workshop ways to prevent issues in future and rebuild a healthy relationship.

Managing workplace conflicts  

Conflict resolution skills in the workplace are an important tool to create a happy, collaborative and smooth work environment that everyone wants to be in. So next time conflict arises, do not hide from it – tackle it head on.

HaysSearchEntityForm Portlet