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Handling Conflict at Work: 6 Steps for Conflict Resolution

Updated: Apr 25

Conflict is a natural part of being a human and a common occurrence in any workplace. Often, as DEI practitioners, members of ERGs or DEI councils, or even allies, we may find ourselves in situations where conflict may arise and we are tasked with assisting in resolution.


First, it is important to remember that conflict is not always a negative. Conflict related to the task at hand or the process used to achieve that task has been found to be beneficial to overall performance in certain situations (Bradley et al., 2012). The kind of conflict that is important to avoid, on the other hand, is relationship conflict, which is more interpersonal in nature.


In order to avoid task or process conflict escalating to relationship conflict, there are several important steps we can take towards resolution:

  1. Identify and clarify the conflict.

  2. Practice active listening to hear all sides of the story.

  3. Investigate the situation further as needed.

  4. Determine possible routes to a solution that is beneficial for all parties.

  5. Agree on a solution and determine each individual’s role in enacting that solution.

  6. Evaluate progress over time, make adjustments as needed, and enact preventative strategies to avoid conflict in the future.

1. Identify and clarify the conflict.

The crucial first step in any conflict resolution is determining where the conflict arose. In this step it is essential to determine how both sides see and understand the disagreement and be sure to reach a common understanding in order to move forward.

2. Practice active listening to hear all sides of the story.

Gather both parties in a safe and private place and give each of them the opportunity to air their grievances and tell their side of the story, uninterrupted. Be sure to give both parties equal time. Embrace a positive and empathetic approach in order to be sure that each party feels safe and comfortable sharing their perspective in order to get everyone on the same page.


3. Investigate the situation further as needed.

There may be other information about the situation that is missing even after hearing from both parties. This may involve talking to others who may be involved or digging deeper into the details surrounding the conflict. Review all information available to you before presenting possible solutions to the affected parties.


4. Determine possible routes to a solution that is beneficial for all parties.

After gathering as much information as possible, sit down again with the affected parties and present some possible solutions, emphasizing here the common goal of resolving this conflict. Previous efforts to make sure all parties agree on the conflict (Step 1-2) are essential here to ensure that everyone is on the same page and willing to work towards this common goal of resolution


5. Agree on a solution and determine each individual’s role in enacting that solution.

After presenting several alternatives, both parties should agree to one course of action. It is important here to clearly identify each individual’s role in enacting this solution. Further, this is a good step to identify preventative strategies for avoiding similar situations in the future.

6. Evaluate progress over time, make adjustments as needed, and enact preventative strategies to avoid conflict in the future.

Lastly, it is important to continue to check in over time to ensure that the conflict has been resolved effectively and both parties are satisfied with the resolution. Also, be sure to continue to assess the use of the preventative strategies identified in Step 5 to avoid similar conflicts in the future.


Why is conflict resolution a DEI issue?

As we strive to have diverse and inclusive workplaces, conflict is not only likely but necessary. Without conflict, there is not likely to be progress. The steps above are guidelines to effectively having conversations about these conflicts and the best path to move forward.


A crucial feature of organizations where these conversations can happen is psychological safety. Without psychological safety, it will be difficult to have constructive conflict and avoid negative conflict. Further, psychological safety creates an environment where individuals can feel included at their organization. Read more about psych safety here.

Looking for guidance on how to avoid DEI-related conflict in your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions to learn more about how we can become your trusted partner, helping you create a more inclusive workplace. Together.

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