Six Steps to Successfully Resolve Workplace Conflict

How to get to a win-win outcome.

Posted Oct 01, 2019

Conflict at work can be a regular occurrence and one that can be quite stressful. Conflict is when two or more parties (individuals or groups) have incompatible goals, with each of the conflicting parties striving to achieve their personal goals. Here are six key strategies that will help you have better outcomes in workplace conflict situations.

1. Have a Win-Win Mindset. We typically think that conflict scenarios end with “winners” and “losers” – those who satisfy their goals and those who don’t. We need to change that mindset and focus on outcomes where both parties can win. This is called a “collaboration” strategy/outcome. Of course if the conflict is over scarce resources – such as dividing up a budget, and each party wants more than fifty percent, a win-win solution may not be possible. In other cases, however, we may be able to satisfy both parties' goals and make everyone happy.

2. Resentment: Let it Go. You may have some history of past conflicts with someone or some group, and you feel resentment, and, this time, you want to win! However, going into a conflict scenario with a chip on your shoulder isn’t a good strategy. Try a little forgiveness, and start with a clean slate. It will lead to more productive negotiations.

3. Choose Your Battles. While avoiding conflict is, as a general strategy, a bad idea, there are times where you may want to postpone getting into a conflict until you are mentally and strategically ready. There may also be instances where dealing with a minor conflict may not be worth the effort and you may decide to wait until conditions escalate before going into full-conflict-resolution mode.

4. Compromise Carefully. Believe it or not, compromising is a lose-lose strategy in conflict negotiations because it requires that each party give up a part of their desired goals. The time to move to a compromise solution may be when you are unable to get a collaborative, win-win outcome. All too often, people become “addicted” to compromising in negotiations and settle when a better outcome is possible.

5. Prepare Ahead of Time. If you know that you are going to enter into a conflict situation, be prepared. Think about possible scenarios and develop a strategy. Review all of the information you have that supports your argument and have supporting materials ready at hand. Think about possible outcomes and decide what would be acceptable and unacceptable outcomes. Have more than one plan.

6. Establish Ground Rules. In formal negotiations, you may want to establish some rules for how they will proceed. For example, in a departmental meeting where conflict is inevitable, you may want to have limits on each member’s speaking time, rules for voting (e.g., open or secret ballots), and decide which behaviors are “out of bounds.” This can help limit frustration, anger, and resentment.

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