Conflict Resolution: Definition, Process, Skills, Examples

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019

Conflict resolution skills are required for a wide range of positions across many job sectors. This requirement is based around the fact that conflict tends to reduce productivity and create a difficult work environment, leading to unwanted turnover in staff and reduced morale. Individuals who are able to resolve conflicts are often excellent mediators, rational, and able to manage difficult personalities from a place of empathy.

What Is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process by which two or more parties reach a peaceful resolution to a dispute. Conflict may occur between co-workers, or between supervisors and subordinates, or between service providers and their clients or customers. Conflict can also occur between groups, such as management and the labor force, or between whole departments. 

Some conflicts are essentially arbitrary, meaning it doesn’t matter who “wins,” only that the problem is resolved so everyone can get back to work.

But some conflicts reflect real disagreements about how an organization should function.

The Conflict Resolution Process

The resolution of conflicts in the workplace typically involves some or all of the following processes:

  1. Recognition by the parties involved that a problem exists.
  2. Mutual agreement to address the issue and find some resolution.
  3. An effort to understand the perspective and concerns of the opposing individual or group.
  4. Identifying changes in attitude, behavior, and approaches to work by both sides that will lessen negative feelings.
  5. Recognizing triggers to episodes of conflict.
  6. Interventions by third parties such as Human Resources representatives or higher level managers to mediate.
  7. A willingness by one or both parties to compromise.
  8. Agreement on a plan to address differences.
  9. Monitoring the impact of any agreements for change.
  10. Disciplining or terminating employees who resist efforts to defuse conflicts.

Types of Conflict Resolution Skills

Assertiveness

A supervisor might take the initiative to convene a meeting between two employees who have engaged in a public dispute. An employee might seek out a person with whom they're having conflict to suggest working together to find ways to co-exist more peacefully.

  • Articulate
  • Balanced Approach
  • Candor
  • Decisive
  • Delegation
  • Fact-Based
  • Fair
  • Firm
  • Leadership
  • Manages Emotions
  • Management
  • Negotiating
  • Sociable
  • Voices Opinions
  • Problem-Solving
  • Self-Control
  • Stress-Management

Interviewing and Active Listening

A Human Resources representative might have to ask questions and listen carefully to determine the nature of a conflict between a supervisor and a subordinate.

  • Articulate
  • Attentiveness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Considerate
  • Empathy
  • Encouraging
  • Intuitive
  • Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Persuasion
  • Predicting
  • Presentation
  • Professional
  • Relationship Building
  • Respectful
  • Sense of Humor
  • Sincere
  • Sociable
  • Understanding
  • Verbal communication

Empathy

A mediator might encourage empathy by asking employees in conflict to each describe how the other might be feeling and thinking, and how the situation might look to the other party. Empathy is also an important skill for mediators, who must be able to understand each party’s perspective, without necessarily agreeing with either.

  • Asking for Feedback
  • Building Trust
  • Compassion
  • Inclusion
  • Giving Feedback
  • Handling Difficult Personalities
  • Managing Emotions
  • High Emotional Intelligence
  • Identifying Nonverbal Cues
  • Recognizing Differences
  • Understanding Different Viewpoints
  • Interpersonal
  • Patience
  • Personable
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Control
  • Trustworthy
  • Welcoming Opinions

Facilitation

Managers of rival departments might facilitate a joint brainstorming session with their teams to generate solutions to ongoing points of conflict. Group facilitation techniques can also be used to avoid triggering conflict during group decision-making, in the first place.

Mediation Skills

A supervisor might guide subordinates who are in conflict through a process to identify mutually agreeable changes in behavior.

  • Assertive
  • Compassionate
  • Decision Making
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Honesty
  • Impartial
  • Insightful
  • Leadership
  • Measured
  • Patience
  • Problem Solving
  • Professional
  • Psychology Background
  • Rational Approach
  • Respect
  • Understanding
  • Transparency

Creative Problem Solving

A supervisor might redefine the roles of two conflict-prone staff to simply eliminate points of friction. Creativity can also mean finding new win/win solutions.

  • Brainstorming Solutions
  • Conflict Analysis
  • Collaborating
  • Critical Thinking
  • Convening Meetings
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Decision Making
  • Designating Sanctions
  • Fair Resolution
  • Goal Integration
  • Monitoring Process
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Restoring Relationships
  • Sense of Humor
  • Verbal Communication

Accountability

A supervisor might document conflict-initiating behaviors exhibited by a chronic complainer as preparation for a performance appraisal. In this way, the supervisor helps establish accountability, since the employee can no longer pretend the problem isn’t happening.

  • Adaptable
  • Collaboration
  • Delegation
  • Driven
  • Dynamic
  • Flexible
  • Focus
  • Follow-through
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Organized
  • Planning
  • Results-Oriented
  • Visionary
  • Trustworthy
  • Versatile

More Conflict Resolution Skills

  • Accepting Criticism
  • Assertive
  • Avoid Punishing
  • Being Present
  • Calmness
  • Data-Driven
  • Impartiality
  • Intuitive
  • Leadership
  • Let It Go
  • Logical
  • Non-Bias
  • Patience
  • Positivity
  • Prioritize Relationships
  • Project Management
  • Research
  • Respect Differences
  • Separating Yourself
  • Stress Management
  • Technical Expertise

Examples of Conflict Resolution Skills

  • Assertiveness by a supervisor who convenes a meeting between two employees who have engaged in a public dispute.
  • Interviewing and active listening skills utilized by a human resources representative to define the nature of a conflict between a supervisor and subordinate.
  • A supervisor encouraging empathy by asking opposing employees to describe how the other might feel in conflict situations.
  • Managers of rival departments facilitating a brainstorming session with their staffs to generate solutions to ongoing points of conflict.
  • Mediation skills by a supervisor who helps rival subordinates to identify mutually agreeable changes in behavior.
  • A co-worker seeking out a rival and suggesting that she would like to find a way to co-exist more peacefully.
  • Creativity and problem-solving by a supervisor who redefines roles of two conflict-prone staff to eliminate points of friction.
  • Accountability established by a supervisor who documents conflict initiating behaviors exhibited by a chronic provocateur on his performance appraisal.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

ADD RELEVANT SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME: Include the terms most closely related to the job in your resume, especially in the description of your work history.

HIGHLIGHT SKILLS IN YOUR COVER LETTER: You can incorporate conflict resolution skills into your cover letter, and include examples of instances when you used them at work.

USE SKILL WORDS DURING JOB INTERVIEWS: You can also use these words in your job interviews. Be prepared to share examples.