Conflict shouldn’t scare you. It can be very productive. It is merely a differing of ideas and opinions, but we often take it to another level and add emotion.

Conflict is natural; neither positive nor negative, it just is. It’s not whether you have conflict in your life.  It’s what you do with that conflict that makes a difference. Conflict is not a contest. Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right.  It is about acknowledgement and appreciation of differences.

Conflict begins within.  As we unhitch our mental models and heighten our perceptions we are more open to possibilities and change, and we can positively impact our performance and that of others.

Since conflict “just is” , some quarreling, complaining and disagreements can be expected.  This is not a sign of a bad person. Some studies have felt this can be a positive sign that you and your friends and family are open to hearing all opinions.

How we work with people is based on the patterns we have developed over the years.  We tend to respond to situations in similar ways as we have in the past.  What bothers us about one person is usually projected onto others who behave in the same way.  As a result we have learned how to approach certain people or situations.

You see the possibility of a conflict.  Can you believe that both of you can win?  How?

Conflict comes primarily from 4 sources:

  • real or imagined differences In values
  • dissimilar goals
  • poor communication
  • personalizing generic or organizational issues

Resolving a conflict includes becoming aware of the conflict, diagnosing its nature and applying appropriate methods to:

  • Calm the negative energy
  • Enable the disputing parties to understand and resolve their differences

14 Steps to Resolving Conflicts (while building Win-Win Relationships)

  1.  Get connected: identify and call attention to the conflict, address feelings Clarify purpose and set ground rules
  2. Listen empathically: encourage each side to objectively explain their bottom line requirements and their interests – understand what the other person is experiencing
  3. List and describe the issues for each party – allow sufficient uninterrupted time,
  4. Separate facts from opinions: verify the facts and explore the beliefs or assumptions behind the opinions.
  5. Encourage points of agreement: during the process keep encouraging points of agreement
  6. Explore areas of disagreement: may need to “agree to disagree” Identify points of agreement and disagreement
  7. Problem-solve the disagreements  Develop solutions for mutual gain
  8. Count to 10 – choose not to respond, take a break, allow for a “cooling off” period
  9. Address new conflicts: Don’t stifle new conflicts but also don’t dwell on them
  10. Create safety: be open and non-judgmental
  11. Bring in other points of view or a 3rd party to mediate
  12. Permit changes: allow people to change points of view
  13.  Move toward agreement, formalize implementation and responsibilities – record it, monitor progress and continue to discuss issues

Solutions need to:

  • Be accepted, not imposed
  • Ensure agreement by all parties
  • Address the root causes of the conflict

We respond to conflict through our Thoughts, Feelings, and Physical Responses

We have emotional, cognitive and physical responses to conflict. These are important windows into our experience during conflict, for they frequently tell us more about what is the true source of threat that we perceive; by understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict, we may get better insights into the best potential solutions to the situation.

  • Emotional responses: These are the feelings we experience in conflict, ranging from anger and fear to despair and confusion. Emotional responses are often misunderstood, as people tend to believe that others feel the same as they do. Thus, differing emotional responses are confusing and, at times, threatening.
  • Cognitive responses: These are our ideas and thoughts about a conflict, often present as inner voices or internal observers in the midst of a situation. Through sub-vocalization (i.e., self-talk), we come to understand these cognitive responses. For example, we might think any of the following things in response to another person taking a parking spot just as we are ready to park:
  • “That jerk! Who does he think he is! What a sense of entitlement!”
  • “I wonder if he realizes what he has done. He seems lost in his own thoughts. I hope he is okay.”
  • “What am I supposed to do? Now I’m going to be late for my meeting… Should I say something to him? What if he gets mad at me?”

Such differing cognitive responses contribute to emotional and behavioral responses, where self-talk can either promote a positive or negative feedback loop in the situation.

  • Physical responses: These responses can play an important role in our ability to meet our needs in the conflict. They include heightened stress, bodily tension, increased perspiration, tunnel vision, shallow or accelerated breathing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. These responses are similar to those we experience in high-anxiety situations, and they may be managed through stress management techniques. Establishing a calmer environment in which emotions can be managed is more likely if the physical response is addressed effectively.

Conflict Resolution Styles

We have many choices of behaviors to respond to situations which we have identified as a conflict.  Many of us have learned naturally how to respond effectively.  Others of us run on “automatic” in less effective ways.  How do we become observers of our own behavior to improve our effectiveness?  How do we benefit from others’ feedback?  What are these choices of behaviors we have?

We will identify 5 conflict resolution styles: avoid, accommodate, force, compromise and collaborate. The tables that follow present the advantages and disadvantages of each style as well as when and when not to use them.  Understanding each style and its consequences permits us to adapt our behavior in various situations.

Which of the following “styles” most commonly reflects how you respond to conflicts?  Also consider how you respond as the conflict escalates and you feel backed into a corner.


Two people, co-workers, subordinates, friends or family members  are having a conflict. you don’t want to get involved. It’s not your problem. You avoid the situation

Advantages Disadvantages
Keeps you out of situations where your involvement will only result in negative outcomes for you Allows conflict to grow (snowball effect)
May keep you from harmful influence of others Sets the stage for a bigger explosion later
Buys some time (may give you the opportunity to collect information to use when you later address the conflict) Keeps any “real” solution from being found
Attention can be paid to other more important issues Causes others to perceive that you don’t care
Keeps you distant from issues others can manage without your involvement Leaves the impression that you can’t change
Reinforces the notion that conflict is bad and should be avoided
When to Use When Not to Use
Issue is not important to you Safety or ethical issues are involved that might harm you or others
Issue will not affect whether the deal goes through The relationship is not at risk or in any jeopardy
Issue is too emotionally charged and could damage the relationship, need space to “cool down”  



Everyone wants to do one thing and you don’t really want to. You go along to get along. You put aside your needs or goals to satisfy that of another

Advantages Disadvantages
When you are wrong it, shows you can be reasonable Reduces creativity
When you are outnumbered, it shows you can be flexible May explode later
If the issue is important to the other party but not to you, giving a little can gain a lot Solution may cause more trouble than the original problem
Minimizes your losses if you are going to lose anyway Person who accommodated a solution may change his/her mind later
Advances harmony May demonstrate lack of commitment
Displays trust of the other party’s judgment Lessens the power of the party giving in
May foster a tone of competitiveness by being overly nice
When to Use When Not to Use
Issue is not important to you Safety or ethical issues are involved that might harm you or others
You are interested in preserving the relationship You don’t want to set a precedent


Usually done by a person with more “power” than another. Often thought of as mother’s rules, because i said so. There is an immediate need for a solution.

Advantages Disadvantages
Decisions can be made quickly Reduces the conflict to limited options
Focuses on the goal and not on the other party (good only if the relationship with the other party does not matter) Reduces creativity
Demonstrates commitment May harm the relationship between the parties involved
Demonstrates importance of the issue May explode later
May encourage covert behavior
Defines a winner and a loser
When to Use When Not to Use
Quick action is needed You want to build a working, fairly long-term relationship
Issues of legality and ethics are at hand You have limited knowledge about the subject
There is only one prize. (Note: there is almost always the chance for both parties to win.)  


Both parties give up something to get partial goal attainment. For example, your sales manager wants to tie bonuses to 20% growth every month, and you are aiming for an overall 20% growth for the year.   You settle on quarterly growth of 20%.  Can be win win and can also be lose lose. this is a problem when one side feels they are giving more than the other

Advantages Disadvantages
Quick resolution is possible Solution may not fit the demands of the situation
Can be seen as a win for both parties Can be seen as a loss for both parties rather than a win for either
Demonstrates equal power balance Restricts creativity more often than it promotes it
Can be creative May be another form of avoidance so neither party has to make a decision (example: flipping a coin)
Appears reasonable to outside parties
Can be used as a last resort when other methods fail
When to Use When Not to Use
Your goals are truly mutually exclusive (somebody has to lose) Ethical or legal issues are involved
You have tried another strategy and didn’t get the results you wanted Your goals are compatible
You can give up issues that aren’t important to you  



Often seen as the best way to resolve conflict since all parties focus on solving the problem together as opposed to reflecting on each other. There is only one direction; the successful end result

Advantages Disadvantages
Satisfies both parties Time consuming
Promotes creativity Energy consuming
Demonstrates importance of both parties’ goals
Demonstrates importance of the relationship
Demonstrates respect for the other party
Builds trust in the relationship
Demonstrates commitment to finding a good solution
Gains commitment to solution from both parties
Promotes the idea that conflict can be productive
When to Use When Not to Use
Issue is important and requires long-term buy-in You don’t have time
You want the most input into the solution; You have little flexibility due to outside contract agreements, ethical or legal issues
You want to build a relationship  

  May all of your conflicts resolve successfully and lead to improved performance on all levels!