4 Steps to Conflict Resolution


Over the years, working with many leaders and teams experiencing conflict, we have found that there is a simple structure, when kept in mind, increases success in conflict situations. The steps are:

1. Understand the Issue
2. Set a vision
3. Explore Alternatives
4. Agree on Action

With that said, it is hard to always follow it perfectly. It is meant as a guideline to address the key aspects of conflict situations. These 4 steps is further outlined below:

1. Understand the Issue

If you frame the beginning as an opportunity to understand the issue, rather than a fight or argument, it will make it easier to begin. Here are the key elements of this step:

Ask for a Meeting: Before speaking, we suggest asking for a meeting. It is best if you and your colleague can focus on the issue, without being disturbed. Also, you may want to prepare yourself so you can handle the meeting effectively.

There is another key point to consider. You may not want to disclose any of the details of the topic of conversation in an email or a phone call when setting up a meeting. Once you bring up the issue, the conversation starts. If both of you are not in a place or space to fully discuss it, the conversation can backfire because you cannot do justice the complexity and emotions of the topic.

Rather, saying something like “I would like to meet with you to discuss an important issue.” Then when they ask you what it is, it is better to say something like “It would be best to discuss it when we can both focus on it.” This communicates the topic is not quick, that it is important and that it could be complicated and emotional, which helps ensure they set up a time and place for such a conversation . It also creates a curiosity on the other party’s part. They are curious and come ready to listen.

Here is an example:

Employee: “__________________________(name) I’d like to schedule a meeting with you to discuss an important issue.” [Reducing Static. / Maintain Curiosity.]

Boss: “What is it?”

Employee: “I’d rather talk about it when we have time to talk with both our full attention. When would you have 30 minutes?”

Boss: “I need to know what it is so I can prepare.”

Employee: “ I understand that. However, if I open the conversation now it will just complicate things. Are you willing to trust me and we can take all the time we need at the meeting?”

Raise the Issue: When the meeting begins, you will need to raise the issue.

Raising the issue, the first part of any conflict situation, is often the hardest. It can be easy to find reasons to put off difficult conversations. Here are some further sub-steps to guide you:

a. Open Discussion: It helps to find a neutral or positive way to open the discussion such as talking about other things, business or personal.

b. Share Specifics: Make sure that you come to the discussion prepared. Have specific examples and cases in mind so you can help make the conversation concrete and prevent it from escalating into blaming and accusations.

Raise the issue by being as specific as possible. Mention the specific situation(s) or events(s) that upset you. If you can identify behaviors, such as what the open person did /didn’t say or do, that is particularly helpful. This will help focus the conversation rather than the other person perceiving you as attacking them.

c. Discuss Impact: If possible, explain the impact of the event had on you, the team, other people, the business, or customers. Again, this will help the other person understand that you are not raising this issue just to be difficult.

d. Listen: A key part of understanding the Issue is to understand the other person’s point of view. Ask questions. Be curious. Follow the guidelines we outline earlier in this chapter on Listening. This will go a long way to build understanding, and ultimately resolve the conflict.

2. Set a Vision

Now that all the issues are out on the table, and before you jump ahead to fix the problem, you need to be very clear with the other parties about what the objectives are of addressing it. Are they to:

*Improve relationship
*Resolve business issue
*Assure better service quality / deliver best customer service
*Promote yourself
*Make future life at work easier
*Get compliance with the process you are in charge with

Working together to discuss and articulate a vision for the future will help both parties move past the past and start thinking about the future in a more positive frame of mind.

3. Explore Alternatives

Once the vision is agreed to, both parties can openly discuss how to get there.

Some questions to discuss you may ask include:

*How are you going to do it?
*How can I help?
*What ideas do you have to prevent this in the future?
*What could you do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Or you may want to make suggestions:

*I’ll need a little time to process this before we talk some more.
*In the future could you include me on ________ before taking action?
*For the next project, what do you say we meet when we start and clearly define roles, responsibilities and decision making process.
*I might need to talk to _______ if we cannot work this out.
Use either or both, as your situation warrants.

4. Agree on Action

If you reached this far, you are bound to get to agreement. The only exception would be if you cannot agree on how to fix the problem. In this case, you may want to ask for a chance to think it over and meet again. Or you may need to inform them of your intention to escalate the issue, Whatever the case, make sure to end with being clear about who is going to do what.

This was first published in our book Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution (McGraw-Hill)

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