Can Conflict Be Resolved?

Anger. Battle. Hurt Feelings. Innovation. Winning. Losing. Fear. These are the words people think of when we say “Conflict”.

Most of the words are negative – they convey conflict as a difficult, dangerous process. Many will go well out of their way to avoid emotional conflict situations, especially at work. There is a lot at stake. Careers. Money. Power. Opportunity. – It’s personal, it’s emotional and it often times means opening oneself and becoming vulnerable.


The aim of this article is to provide a framework to help re-think how to resolve conflict at work.

Types of Conflict?

There are 2 types of conflict at work.

The first we’ll call direct conflict. This is when it is clear there is a difference of opinion including:

• My perception of the situation is at odds with yours

• My point of view is at odds with yours

• My needs are at odds with yours

Secondly, there are situations where bad feelings develop over time and create a barrier to relationships and productivity. This can be the result of not handling the initial situation right away. Or it may be a lack of skills on your part to address it. Or it could be the other person is just difficult to deal with.

Why Do We Avoid Conflict?

We all avoid conflicts at some point at work, for good and bad reasons. Think of a conflict you are currently avoiding experiencing. Maybe it is lingering on. Maybe you think you can continue to do your work without resolving it. Whatever the case, there is something about it that is making you avoid getting it resolved: Is it…
 Too risky – You believe there is too much political risk to address it. Possibly a poorly handled conflict could result in a fallout that will damage a project, task or your career.
 Unpleasant – Sometimes we avoid conflict because it is just hard.
 Too personal – You may think that the issue is personal and not work related.
 Difficult to control – You are feeling so upset that you do not have confidence you can control yourself. Or maybe the other party has a history of being explosive and you think you don’t have the skills to manage the situations

These reasons are all real and valid. Our article is meant to help you overcome these reasons and find an approach that will enable you to address the conflict productively and professionally.

Can conflict be resolved?

We have yet to run across an organization where all conflict is resolved . Conflict ebbs and flows in relationships and organizations. In fact, if we saw no conflict during change in an organization, we would suspect the organization to be dying or dead! The emotional exchange of ideas and perceptions is a natural occurrence of people working together.

Employees at all levels must continue working while conflicts and ambiguities exist.
This is not to say that conflict cannot be resolved. There are some work conflict situations that can be addressed through a short dialogue to clear up misunderstandings. However, many others take more work. They require more energy, revisiting and a personal commitment to working out the issue in the long term.

Also, there are different ways to look at “resolution.” If you are looking at resolution as everyone being completely happy with the outcome, then resolution is not attainable in many situations. Sometimes I may be happy and you not. Other times vice versa.

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

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