Conflict Resolution Skills: What They Are And Examples

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 4, 2020
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Some people incite conflict; others do whatever they can to avoid it. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, you’re going to encounter conflict in your life. Unfortunately, it’s going to crop up in all areas of your life – at work, home, and in social settings.

Dealing with conflict and coming out on the other side feeling good about things is a true art. If you’re not blessed with that natural ability, then there are some skills you can learn and nurture to get there. Being a conflict resolution master can improve your life in an overarching manner.

First, let’s take a look at what conflict resolution is. Once we nail down a definition, it will be easier to target the skills needed and achieve mastery of them.

What Is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict resolution is the ability to see and address both parts of a conflict and come to a solution that satisfies everyone to some degree. If you’re not able to satisfy both sides entirely, a good resolution specialist will be able to help both sides to some agreement.

Conflict is a normal part of life. People don’t always agree, and when they don’t, there is conflict. Conflict need not be uncomfortable, volatile, or even, in some situations, violent. Conflict can be a productive way to look at all sides of a situation and develop a solution. This is where conflict resolution skills can be a tremendous benefit.

With the right skills, you can see how someone can take a conflict and turn it into a peaceful solution. You might also be able to imagine the same situation escalating horribly if there isn’t a good mediator with some solid skills there to guide resolution. Let’s look at those conflict resolution skills in greater detail.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Being able to see both sides of an issue, to get people to listen to you and calmly tell you their opinion, to pull data together and analyze it; all of that is crucial to being a good negotiator and mediator.

On top of that, you have to be able to understand the conflict at a high level that allows you to find a solution – not just any solution, but the best one and one that is agreeable to everyone. There’s a lot involved, and this is an essential soft skill that should be valued in the workplace.

To become good at resolving conflict, you need to have these skills:

  • Active listening. Being an active listener is actually an umbrella term that covers many skills that come together to make you an excellent listener. It takes talent to hear what someone is saying and then to really understand what the meaning behind it is.

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    Sometimes people say something, but there’s an underlying issue that’s not easily understood. Getting to the root of the matter is essential, and it’s something an active listener can do.

  • Nonverbal translator. If you can read nonverbal communications, you’re going to get an even better idea of the problem. If someone gets upset when another person speaks, it could be that person that’s the problem – not the actual conflict. Reading nonverbals can give you this added insight.

  • Leadership. Leaders are easier to listen to and accept solutions from. To manage a conflict, you need to lead people so they will tell you their side and then listen to you explain the other side. They also have to be willing to follow you to a solution.

  • Teamwork. Leadership is key, but so is teamwork. If you can create a sense of everyone being on a team and working together, you’ll be more successful.

  • Problem-solving. There’s a level of practical thinking and a lot of creativity that is needed for problem-solving. Often, cooperation is a big part of it, too. Seeing the problem for what it truly is helps you narrow down solutions. Then you need input to guide everyone to an agreeable resolution. If a compromise seems impossible, then it’s time to be an independent problem-solver, which is truly a talent.

  • Neutral impartiality. We’ve mentioned being neutral a few times; that’s because it’s necessary. You can’t take one side of the argument and come up with a resolution that both sides will agree upon. You’ll make the other side feel slighted each and every time.

  • Emotional stability. If you’re a “hot head” or are easily upset and enraged, then conflict resolution is probably not going to be something you can do. Being neutral means not letting your emotions get the best of you or get in the way of seeing the whole picture.

  • Patience and calm demeanor. If a conflict gets heated, it can’t get solved without someone who not only has emotional stability but can practice it with patience and a calming manner. This is not just your inner sense of being, but it’s something you transmit to others.

  • Respect. Even if others are being downright rude or ridiculous, a good leader will show them respect. In turn, they’ll get respect back, which will help the whole process go more smoothly, and it’ll be easier to come to a resolution.

  • Stress management. Even the best of us can get stressed out when tensions are high. Knowing how to manage your own stress first, then help others manage theirs, helps to diffuse tense situations.

  • Interpersonal communication. Maybe one of the most challenging skills to learn, being able to communicate effectively is vital to this role. This is true whether you’re communicating by listening and reflecting on what was said, or you’re doing the speaking and need people to understand what you’re saying. No conflict can be resolved if people can’t communicate effectively.

You can see how many of these skills are not something you learn in school; they’re soft skills. These are skills that employers look for, but they’re hard to put on a resume. The good news is you can continuously work on these skills to improve them. You can also look at how you’ve used them in the past and find ways to learn and adapt.

Examples of Conflict in the Workplace

Every parent can probably come up with an example of a home conflict, maybe even one that occurred very recently. Siblings are constantly battling over toys, attention, treats, affection – you name it, and most of them can fight over it.

But what about conflict in the workplace? That’s harder to nail down. Sure, you may get some people who act like children and fight over everything, but what about real issues? The following are real-world examples of workplace conflicts.

  • Tim is the sales manager, but he’s recently been promoted to that position. He still feels connected to his old clients and often steps in to help Martha, who inherited those clients when Tim was promoted. Tim just wants to be helpful and use his experience and connections to keep the clients. Martha thinks Tim doesn’t trust her and is a micromanager.

    Who is in the wrong here? Is anyone in the wrong? How do you moderate this all-too-common problem of micromanaging?

  • Doug left his editor position for a new job. Until someone is hired to replace Doug, five different people are assigned the job of editing work from the writers. The problem is that all five people have a different style. Each writer is frustrated because they are constantly getting different advice, depending on who edits their work.

    How can this situation be resolved? What if Doug can never be replaced? How then can you make the writers happy and have a cohesive and dependable editing process?

  • Mary brings a snack to work every day. She puts the snack in the community refrigerator and even labels it. Each day someone takes her snack.

    How do you figure out who is taking Mary’s food? How do you deal with them? How do you make Mary feel happy again?

  • The office plays music softly in the background and has for decades. Jim can’t stand the music. It bothers him and makes it hard for him to focus.

    What is a good solution to this problem that will make Jim happy and address future issues from other employees?

  • Riley loves to gossip in the office, and he’s quite a social butterfly. People love Riley and enjoy speaking to him but find that their productivity increases dramatically when Riley is out of the office. The supervisor also sees this and doesn’t want to fire Riley. She also doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.

    How can the supervisor keep Riley’s bubbly personality a positive part of the workforce but reduce his interactivity with his co-workers?

  • Mike and Betty are co-workers, and they’ve recently started dating. Even though the office frowns on it, many of the co-workers have had relationships in the past. In fact, Betty was dating Paul recently, and that’s where a lot of the conflict is coming to a head.

    How can you respect your employees’ personal rights and stay out of their relationships, but deal with this issue?

What are some conflicts or challenges you’ve faced at work? How were they handled? Can you look at the person who mediated the conflict and find which skills they used well to find a solution? How could the situation have been handled better? Learning from your experiences is one of the best ways to internalize a process and become a more skilled conflict resolution specialist.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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