Personal Courage and Conflict Resolution at Work

How (and Why) to Hone Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Two men resolve a conflict at work by using personal courage to resolve it.
Tim Robbins / Getty Images

Practicing personal courage is necessary if you want to successfully resolve conflicts at work. It is much easier and much safer to ignore the necessary conflict and play ostrich. Unfortunately, unresolved conflict tends to escalate. It never really disappears because it simmers just below the surface.

Think of water that is coming to a boil. It bubbles up in the pot sporadically and then finally reaches the boiling temperature. At that point, a full-blown rolling, constant boiling is seen on the surface of the water.

Conflict behaves similarly. The water may seem calm, but every once in a while, usually at the worst possible times, the conflict bubbles up to the surface once again. Unresolved conflict does not go away; unresolved conflict can turn into a full boil at any time.

Many people are afraid of conflict resolution. They feel threatened by it because they may not get what they want if the other party gets what they want. It is often difficult to foresee a win-win solution. Even in the best circumstances, conflict resolution is uncomfortable because people are usually unskilled at managing conflict. Finally, people can get hurt when a conflict exists in the workplace and, at work, they are still expected to work together effectively every day.

The Benefits of Conflict Resolution

The workplace today makes conflict resolution more important, but also, more difficult. Team or work cell environments create more conflict as people with different opinions must choose to work together, often in close quarters.

Empowering work environments, in which the traditional reliance on a manager to solve conflicts and make decisions, bring coworkers into more frequent conflict, as they must work issues out for themselves. Conflict resolution also:

  • Causes people to listen to and consider different ideas.
  • Enables people to increase their alternatives and potential paths.
  • Results in increased participation and more ownership of and commitment to the decisions and goals of the group or person.

The goal of the people or the team is not to eliminate conflict but to learn how to manage conflict constructively.

You've decided resolving the conflict is more important than all of the reasons why people avoid conflict. Here are tips to help you practice less scary, less intimidating, more effective and successful conflict resolution, with an individual or a team.

Resolve the Conflict

  • Create an environment that is conducive to successful conflict resolution. Quiet, private settings work the best. Agree prior to sitting down together that the purpose of the meeting is to resolve the conflict. When you make this agreement, all parties arrive prepared.
  • Determine what outcomes you'd like to see as a result of the discussion. A better working relationship? A better solution to the problem? Increased alternatives for successful projects? A broadened understanding of each person's needs and wants? Thoughtful solutions and outcomes are infinite if you are creative.
  • Begin by allowing each party to express their point of view. The purpose of the exchange is to make sure both parties clearly understand the viewpoint of the other. Make sure each party ties their opinions to real performance data and other facts, where possible. This is not the time to discuss; it is the time to ask questions, clarify points for better understanding, and truly hear the other's viewpoint.
  • Agree on the difference in the points of view. You must agree on the problem together to begin to search for a solution. Often problems are simply misunderstandings. Clarification can end the need for conflict resolution. Try to focus on the issues, not the personalities of the participants. Don't you each other as in, "You always ..."
  • Explore and discuss potential solutions and alternatives. Try to focus on both your individual needs and wants and those of the other party. After all, if one party wins, that means the other party loses. People who feel as if they have lost, are not effective coworkers.
  • They harbor resentment and may even sabotage your project or relationship. Make sure you discuss the positive and negative possibilities of each suggestion before you reject any suggested solutions. Build a discussion that is positive and powerful for all parties.
  • Agree on a plan that meets the needs of all parties and the organization. Agree on follow-up steps, as necessary, to make the plan work. Agree on what each person will do to solve the conflict. Set clear goals and know how you will measure success.
  • Do what you agreed to do.

The Bottom Line

With more experience in conflict resolution, you will grow more comfortable with conflict resolution. That's a positive outcome for the workplace. It will foster idea generation, help people get along, minimize negative behaviors, and promote the success of all in placing their attention where it belongs—on the customer.