5 Stages of Conflict Resolution

Eighty-five percent of all employees will experience conflict in the workplace. Often, team members, employees, and leaders have the desire to find a resolution to conflict and differences, but don’t know how to approach the situation. An effective leader recognizes that workplace conflict will happen and has the skills and tools to help team members resolve situations and differences in a collaborative way.

3 Benefits of Workplace Conflict Resolution

With strategy, assertiveness, and good intent, you can facilitate healthy conflict resolution among your team members. More importantly, you can guide them in becoming resilient and confident problem solvers. Here are three specific benefits for you, your team, and the organization when conflict and differences are resolved in an effective and collaborative way.

1. Higher Retention

One in five employees say colleagues have left a company due to conflict. Moreover, 25 percent of team members have called in sick to avoid workplace issues.

These findings illustrate how unresolved conflict can have a negative impact on your business. But a culture that is open to communication and the proper conflict resolution strategies can empower team players to view conflict as personal and professional growth opportunities.

2. Increased Productivity & Collaboration

When managed right, conflict can boost motivation, mutual understanding, and team performance. Misunderstandings or differences of opinion can lead to innovation and new insights when explored rather than avoided.

3. Better Conflict Resolution Skills

When team members receive conflict resolution training, their confidence in managing conflict increases by 27 percent.

While training may not always be an option for every employee, leaders can help their team better understand each other and achieve a healthy relationship with differences and conflict. Conflict is inevitable, so it is crucial to equip team members with the right tools and knowledge to find win-win solutions. This approach will help build confidence that resolutions can be achieved.

Leaders can more effectively manage workplace conflicts by taking an approach that involves five stages of conflict resolution. When executed well, leaders will not only help team member resolve issues, but enable team members to achieve an outcome that drives professional growth and builds a more collaborative culture. Keep in mind that not all situations will require each stage in the conflict-resolution process. Flexibility is key when addressing differences and conflict. Let’s look at the stages that can serve as a guide as you work with others to find a collaborative resolution to conflict and differences.

two people conflict resolution

5 Stages of Conflict Resolution

1. Define the Conflict

The goal of the first stage of the conflict resolution process is for you and your team members to explore the situation and the source of the conflict. This first step is crucial in ensuring you are resolving a real conflict and building the right foundation for a resolution. Recognizing what the conflict is about and where it came from may require some time and energy, but the more information you can gather will help everyone be better positioned to resolve the conflict in an informed way. It is also important to remember that conflict can emerge from a variety of sources, so don’t be afraid to explore all aspects of it.

Ask questions to get more information about the points of view and concerns of all parties involved. Here are some questions to get you started:

• How and when did this conflict begin?
• How does it make you feel?
• What have you observed that indicates there is a problem?
• What is hindering you from moving past the differences?
• What factors have led to this situation?
• How is the conflict impacting work and productivity?
• What circumstances escalate or deescalate the situation?

As you come to terms with what has caused the conflict, give all parties equal opportunity to share their perspective and information. Demonstrate active listening skills and reserve comments until everyone has had an opportunity to “air out” their concerns. Keep in mind that you are there to help others find a collaborative resolution so remain neutral as you define the conflict.

2. Watch for Underlying Issues

When differences or conflicts emerge and emotions are elevated, there is a tendency for people to bring up other situations or historical experiences. As a leader, you will have to help people identify what is relevant to the issue at hand and manage grievances that extend beyond the particular conflict you are working on. Are there negative attitudes that are clouding the dispute? Is the conflict solely related to the work, or are there personal issues involved? How can you help both parties look beyond their emotions and focus on the conflict itself?

Because past experiences, emotions, and personal styles can interfere with a successful resolution, you will need to be willing to call out underlying issues and help team members determine what is and isn’t relevant. Here are some questions to ask if you need to explore underlying issues:

• What specific circumstances do you think triggered this particular issue?
• How are these emotions and past experiences affecting your ability to resolve the conflict?
• Do those past experiences relate to what is happening now?

As you help navigate a discussion and call out issues and emotions, continue to keep your personal feelings in check. Avoid assigning blame and make it clear you are simply a coach who is mediating a successful resolution to the conflict. If team members don’t seem ready to have a productive, open, and honest discussion about solutions, it may be necessary to pause and revisit the issue at a different time. Calm minds can produce clearer perspectives, so monitor verbal and non-verbal clues that indicate the readiness of all parties.

3. Identify Needs

Another key part of achieving a resolution to differences and disputes is to give each party an opportunity to express their own needs and interests and listen to the needs and interests of others. Thus, we enter the third stage—identifying needs. As parties demonstrate willingness to understand each other’s interests, they will be more open to the possibility of new solutions and approaches.

There are five basic human needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. Keep these fundamental principles in mind as you clarify the needs and interests of both parties. The needs are likely to relate to one of these areas.

• Survival. Survival taps into the feeling of safety and security. When this safety and security is threatened, it can cause stress and pressure. Is someone not pulling their weight on a client project? Is this causing your team members to feel additional stress and pressure?
• Love and belonging. This taps into the emotional connections between team members. Most people want to be accepted, valued, and have a sense of belonging in the team. Does someone feel like they are not being included in an important decision?
• Power. Centered on self-esteem, power involves the need to matter, be recognized, and make a difference. Is a team member being overly dominant on a project plan because they want to be recognized for their expertise?
• Freedom. This involves creative freedom and being able to move freely without restriction. Is one of your colleagues micromanaging a team member in a way that is harming their productivity and work quality?
• Fun. This involves the need for play, relaxation, and humor. Did a team member make a comment that was hurtful to someone else?

As team members express their needs and goals the key is to focus on what is right vs. who is right. Recognize the merits of their perspectives and experiences and actively support the right of others to dissent or disagree. Depending on the types of personalities involved, team members may simply want the other party to change instead of voicing what they need. Therefore, this stage may require some assertiveness on your part to help everyone be willing to step back and be flexible. Your goal is to help them open up their mind to the possibility of new solutions that consider the needs of everyone involved.

4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions and Goals

Once team members have voiced their needs and better understand one another, they are now ready to explore new ideas and solutions to satisfy shared interests and achieve desired results. This begins stage four—brainstorming possible solutions and goals.

Help all parties see that synergistic thinking and innovation can enable a solution that addresses the needs of everyone involved. Encourage them to expand the options, blend ideas, and look for new possibilities. Soliciting the ideas and participation of everyone will ensure that individual needs are being addressed and there will be support on a proposed solution from all sides.

5. Agree on a Solution & Implement It

At this point, team members should understand how they contributed to the differences or conflict, what the needs of all parties are, and how everyone can move forward. In this final stage, all parties should share their commitment to a solution and plan next steps.

As you wrap up the conflict-resolution stages, surface any resistance, reservations, or underlying concerns about moving forward with the agreement. This will confirm that both sides understand what is expected of them and are willing to follow through with the plan. You can ask:

• What specifically needs to be done to finalize the solution?
• Who would like to be responsible for each action item?
• I am committed to support you with this approach. Are you committed to trying it?
• Does anyone have concerns about proceeding as we have outlined?
• If issues arise, what will you both do? What will you expect from each other?

Check in periodically to see how the plan is going and set a time for a progress review. If something isn’t working, revisit the necessary steps above to help them make the right adjustments. And of course, recognize progress and successes along the way. You may need to provide some coaching to both parties as they make changes, act on plans, work through setbacks, and continue to experiment with solutions.

Helping team members resolve conflict and differences can be challenging, but when team members work collaboratively, achieve mutual understanding, and have meaningful dialogue, you can turn difficult situations into a positive force for good.

Find a Conflict & Collaboration Course

Training to help you and your team members effectively manage differences and conflict is a powerful investment in achieving high levels of team performance. CMOE’s Conflict and Collaboration workshop or Managing Differences on-demand digital course will improve your leadership skills by helping you to confidently coach your team members when conflict emerges. These practical learning experiences will equip you with the skills to manage conflict situations, achieve collaborative solutions, and enhance your relationships with others.

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.