10 Tips for Managing Conflict

Whether at work or in our personal lives, it is inevitable that we will deal with some conflict, at some point.  Whether it is an irritable customer, a boss or colleague with whom you do not see eye to eye, a tension-filled meeting, or a disagreement with a family member, we all need skills to navigate these waters successfully. 

While dealing with a tense situation is rarely someone’s favorite thing to do, the more we are aware of and practice healthy ways to address issues, the more we gain confidence and comfort with our ability to handle these situations. Conflict can be positive if it is managed productively.

Here are ten tips to help manage conflict more successfully:

  1. Address issues early.  The longer that tension or emotions are allowed to build, the harder it is to think clearly and speak calmly.  By keeping silent about a potential problem, you may also be unknowingly indicating to the other person that there is no issue — and they may feel blindsided when the problem finally gets raised.
  2. Bring the problem into the open.  When you see the potential for conflict arising, discuss the issue — name the “elephant in the room” so everyone involved can share their perspectives honestly and openly.  Issues that remain hidden or unnamed tend to gain a life of their own.
  3. Ask yourself “What can I do or say to make this a more productive conversation?” Be diplomatic and avoid creating hostility in others.
  4. Consider others’ perspectives and emotions.  By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment, and thinking about what they want and need out of the situation, or what they may be feeling (angry, fearful?) you gain valuable insight and understanding of the other point of view.  You will get your point across better when you respond to their needs.
  5. Separate the issue from the person.  Avoid any personal comments, “put-downs” or judgements about wrong and right.  Instead, focus on the problem at hand.
  6. If the conflict arises around a subjective topic, use data or other objective criteria to remove the emotion and reach a resolution.
  7. Look for the common ideal, value or goal that everyone can agree on.  Even when people have different perspectives and agendas, finding common ground or a unifying point that everyone can endorse becomes a foundation for a solution.
  8. Orchestrate win-win solutions.  Delve into the real underlying needs, desires and beliefs (including your own!).  Be creative, brainstorm, and invent options for mutual gain.  Instead of divvying up the pie, how can you expand the pie?  If there was a solution that got everyone what they wanted, what would it look like?
  9. Take a walk.  When you walk with someone, you are no longer head-to-head (literally) — you are moving in the same direction.  Let the kinetic energy of walking side by side introduce the same energy into the need to move toward a common goal or resolution.
  10. If the conflict cannot be resolved, bring in a neutral third party.

As you use these tools to increase your skills in conflict management, you may also want to ask us about your personal Emotional Intelligence profile, or read resources such as Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, Platinum Rule by Tony Alisander, and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.