Steps for Conflict Resolution

This article gives a summary of six basic steps you can take toward the effective resolution of conflict in your organization. Practiced consistently, these steps offer a way to avoid needless debate and conflict and move quickly to the resolution of differences.

Step One – Defining the problem in terms of needs (not competing solutions): First, state the problem in a way that does not communicate blame or judgment. Making “I” statements is one effective way of stating a problem in non-judgmental, non-punitive way. After you have made a problem statement, or delivered an “I” statement, begin actively listening so you can empathize with the other person’s feelings and needs. Ask clarifying questions so that you can understand his/her side of the problem. Before going to Step 2, be sure both of you accept the definition of the problem.

Step Two – Generating possible solutions (without evaluating them yet): Creativity enters into the process at this point as you both brainstorm all possible solutions to the problem. All solutions must meet the criterion of meeting both your needs in solving the problem.

Step Three – Evaluating and testing the various solutions: At this point, honesty is essential. Which of the solutions will work best? Which has the best chance of being carried out by both of you? If necessary, rethink the situation and come up with additional solutions.

Step Four – Deciding on a mutually acceptable solution: Both of you must make a commitment to one solution. To do this, neither should use power or persuasion; both must freely choose to implement the solution. The solution you agree to probably should be written down so there will be less chance of misunderstanding what is to be done.

Step Five – Implementing the solution: Carrying out the solution generally means talking about who is to do what by when. Trust that the other person will carry out his or her part of the agreement is essential. However, if the solution is not implemented, you have another problem that can be processed in the same way; if it is not implemented, you may have to confront the other person with an “I” statement about his or her lack of action.

Step Six – Evaluating the solution: If a weakness in the solution becomes apparent, you may have to re-process the problem. It should be understood that all decisions are open to re-evaluation and modification.

The following skills and approaches are effective in supporting this problem-solving process:

  • Active listening
  • Clear and honest communication
  • Respect for the needs of others
  • Trust
  • Being open to new information
  • Persistence
  • Firmness in your unwillingness to fail
  • Refusal to revert to win/lose or lose/lose scenarios