Five Steps to Solve Conflict at Work

Woman gesturing during a meeting

Often, an impulse response is not the best response. As a first step to address conflict, slow down.

Conflict in the workplace is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean you should shy away from it. “If managed well, it can be fertile ground for fostering environments of innovative and creative ideas,” says Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, Academic Director for the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. Here are suggestions for a five-step process to increase your skills at addressing conflict constructively.

1. Slow down the process

Conflicts can emerge and escalate quickly, and before you know it, you may be caught in the middle of one. Most likely, your impulse response will not lead you toward a constructive path. Instead, slow down the process. This gives you a chance to set up a more reasonable path forward.

2. Manage your emotions

A slower process will give you time to regulate your breathing. This releases some of the heat that was building up inside of your head and clouding your judgment. Clearing your head will allow you to refocus on the issue at hand and not on personal attacks. In the long run, it will also preserve your working relationship.

3. Seek more information

There is always the possibility that there has been a misunderstanding and asking clarifying questions can provide more information. Intently listen to what the other person is saying and ask yourself, “What is really going on here?” to get to the core of the other person’s concerns.

4. Communicate your needs

Once you have listened to the other person’s concerns and reflected back to them that they have been heard, it is time to state your needs. You want the other person to know what you care about and what is of critical importance to you. This is a good time to mend relationships and identify common ground to establish shared intentions and goals.

5. Bring in a neutral third party

In some cases, it is necessary to bring in a third party to mediate the situation. If you and the other person are still too heated or having difficulty sharing information due to diminished trust, a neutral third party will be able to facilitate the conversation. This will give you the security of knowing the conversation is being monitored and guided toward deeper understanding. It will enable you to get back on track.

Learn more about the M.S. in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.