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5 Strategies to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Conflict can be understood as an extended struggle; a clashing of ideas, ideologies, desires, needs, and ego; an incompatibility of drives, hopes, wishes, and demands.

Strategies to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace


Conflict is everywhere. We experience conflict in our homes, our social lives, and, of course in our workplaces. Conflict can be understood as an extended struggle; a clashing of ideas, ideologies, desires, needs, and ego; an incompatibility of drives, hopes, wishes, and demands. In the workplace, conflict can be reduced to any workplace disagreement that halts the flow of work.


Conflict is a natural and inherent element of the human condition. It is not good or bad.

Depending on our personalities, childhood, and life experiences, some of us thrive on conflict while others will do just about anything to avoid it. Yet, conflict is a natural and inherent element of the human condition. It is not good or bad. But, depending on how it is managed, engaged with, and navigated, conflict can have a devastating impact on our lives and relationships, or it can deeply enrich our lives and relationships.


When conflicts are not addressed effectively, emotions can run high, and individuals suffer. In the workplace, poorly navigated conflict can lead to sickness and absence; personal attacks; and it can also lead to failed projects and failed business relationships. When conflict is navigated in a pro-social manner, it can be quite beneficial. Conflict can increase understanding of others, strengthen trust, improve working relationships, optimize solutions to problems or challenges, enhance team performance, and increase motivation.


Create a Conflict Competent Culture

Designing and implementing strategies to resolve conflict in the workplace require that leaders recognize conflict engagement as a business imperative rather than a set of action items to walk through when a workplace disagreement halts the flow of work.

To harness the benefits of workplace conflict, organizations need to take a strategic approach to conflict resolution. This means putting into place an organizational action plan for managing conflict rather than focusing on a step-by-step guide to conflict engagement. Said another way, designing and implementing strategies to resolve conflict in the workplace require that leaders recognize conflict engagement as a business imperative rather than a set of action items to walk through when a workplace disagreement halts the flow of work. Leadership must prioritize cultivating a conflict competent culture.


The following five strategies to resolve conflict in the workplace are foundational to creating a workplace culture that reaps all the benefits conflict has to offer.


Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Strategy #1 — Cultivate Leadership Intelligence


Humans are complex and in varying stages of development – emotionally, psychologically, cognitively, and spiritually. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to human engagement. That’s why creating a conflict competent workplace culture begins with cultivating high leadership intelligence across the organization. In the article, “Leadership Intelligence,” the authors write, “Leadership Intelligence is about the practice of blending high performance experience and knowledge with personal and collective integrity within the context and culture of collaboration.” At Workplace Peace Institute we believe there are four critical leadership intelligence all leaders must cultivate to create and sustain a conflict competent culture.


Social & Emotional Intelligence. Social intelligence is the capacity to proficiently understand human behavior and inspire positive change in others. It is the ability to know oneself and to know others by leveraging learnings from previous successes and failures. Leaders with high social intelligence are highly effective communicators who have proficient active listening skills. They understand human emotions and welcome them as a core aspect of the human condition. They are aware of social norms and understand the impact their own behavior has on others. Leaders with high EQ inspire confidence and trust.


Emotional intelligence is comprised of five components — self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Emotions are behind all decision-making. Research consistently shows that emotions constitute powerful, pervasive, and predictable drivers of decision-making. Emotions direct our attention, enhance our memory, organize human behavior and orientation toward people, and play a critical role in moral and ethical development. Conflict competent leaders understand their emotions and learn to attune themselves to the emotions of others.


Learn more about Social & Emotional Intelligence in this online leadership training course.


Cultural Intelligence. Cultural intelligence is an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would. Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it is more expansive in terms of understanding the nuances of human behavior. Earley and Mosakowski differentiate between cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence in a Harvard Business Review article. “A person with high emotional intelligence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person’s or group’s behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic. The vast realm that lies between those two poles is culture.” Conflict competent leaders recognize the nuances of cultural differences and can lean into those differences in a way that honors basic human needs and dignity needs.


Learn more about Cultural Intelligence in this online leadership training course.


Dignity Intelligence. Dignity intelligence is the capacity to proficiently connect to the inherent worth and value of all human beings, to actively mitigate the violation of dignity in all instances, and to sustain a connection to something greater than oneself in all interactions. Leaders with high dignity intelligence have humility, high curiosity, and sustain homeostasis mind. Homeostasis mind exists when our nervous system is balanced and well-regulated, leading to our ability to be fully present, steady in our thinking, and emotionally and cognitively available to the needs of others. Conflict competent leaders use their dignity intelligence to create psychologically safe workplaces and to build psychologically safe relationships with colleagues.


Learn more about Dignity Intelligence in this online leadership training course.


Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Strategy #2 — Cultivate Mindfulness as a Leadership Competency


Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, to be fully aware of where we are, to have full awareness of what we are doing, and to have well-regulated emotional reactions to our surroundings. Mindfulness is a quality that every person possesses, although many of us do not have the skills to access it. Meditation is a scientifically proven practice for increasing mindfulness. Meditation increases our capacity for creativity, resiliency, and emotional regulation — essential skills for the conflict competent leader.


Learn more about mindful leadership in this online leadership training course.


Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Strategy #3 — Center Basic Human Needs in Leadership Approach


In his book The Third Side, world-renowned mediator William Ury writes, “Whatever the surface issues in dispute, the underlying cause of conflict lies in the deprivation of basic human needs like love and respect. Frustration leads people to bully others, to use violence, and to grab someone else’s things.” Conflict resolution theorist, scholar, and practitioner John Burton developed Basic Human Needs Theory, which details the human needs, that when frustrated, can lead to conflict. Conflict competent leaders center basic human needs in their leadership approach with the awareness that for all people to thrive in the workplace, they must have access to the resources necessary to achieve their potential.


Learn how to center basic human needs in leadership in this online leadership training course.


Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Strategy #4 — Normalize Conflict Resolution Education & Training


As humans, we come into this world particularly vulnerable to having our dignity violated and our basic human needs unmet. We have an inherent ability to register these violations, yet we do not have an inherent awareness of how to honor dignity nor how to ensure we honor the basic human needs of others. Few of us even have the language to describe what we are experiencing when we are confronted with a violation. In short, we have no handbook for engaging in conflict. The good news is that this can be learned. Conflict competent leaders have proficiency in conflict dynamics, they understand the neuroscience of conflict and can leverage this understand to optimize collaboration in the workplace, and they are able to navigate tough conversations with confidence and purpose.


Explore courses online training courses that normalize conflict resolution education.


Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Strategy #5 — Implement a Human-Centric Conflict Resolution Mechanism


Too often, traditional approaches to conflict management in the workplace are punitive, which can lead to unproductive outcomes such as leaders avoiding conflict engagement because they feel concern about losing high-performing employees. This leaves harmful behavior unchecked and the injured parties unattended to. This is the foundation of a toxic workplace. Conversely, they lean into punitive approaches and lose high-performing employees, oftentimes still leaving the needs of the injured party unattended to. In both cases, the employees and the employer lose.


Conflict competent organizations implement conflict resolutions systems that center basic human needs and dignity needs in the justice process. In a human-centric conflict resolution system the needs of all parties are tended to. Those who have done harm have a process that supports their accountability and those who have been harmed have a process that puts the right the wrong. A human-centric conflict resolution system supports the ability for human growth and holds space for transcending conflict. In a human-centric conflict resolution systems, all parties to the conflict have the potential to access to the benefits of conflict.


Learn more about human-centric conflict resolution mechanisms in this online leadership training course.


A Strategic Approach to Resolving Conflict in the Workplace


Like all strategies, a strategic approach to resolving conflict in the workplace begins with a desired outcome. Leaders should identify and articulate how a conflict competent culture looks and behaves. Gallup defines culture as “how we do things around here,” in terms of conflict competency, leaders must be able to identify in clear language “how we will do things around here” and then intentionally put in place the conditions that must be in place for this to be a lived reality. These five strategies for resolving conflict in the workplace are a great place to start.


 

Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model. Our Leadership Academy supports leaders in honoring basic human needs and dignity needs in the workplace, so they can actualize human potential in the workplace. The online Leadership Academy optimizes competencies in human behavior, communication skills, conflict resolution, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to create highly engaged workplaces where basic human needs and dignity are consistently honored. All our courses are offered online and can be customized for in-person workshops and seminars.

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