Key Principles for Successful Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Eden Elliott - Thursday, December 10, 2020

by Katherine Robertson 


Workplace conflict is considered one of the biggest cause of staff turnover and costs to businesses. Queensland Government research shows over 65% of employee performance problems are the result of strained relationships rather than a lack of skill or motivation. It is imperative therefore that those responsible for dealing with workplace conflict have the necessary skills to ensure conflict is resolved effectively.

Do not judge or decide who is right or wrong

When we are the observer of conflict between others it is easy to feel that what we are observing is ‘childish’, or even unfounded. When we sit in judgement, dismiss conflict, or spend our time trying to determine who is right and who is wrong, we lose the ability to understand the driving forces behind the contention. This creates a situation in which the conflict continues or even escalates.

Uncover what is driving the conflict

Often when parties are in conflict, what they present on the surface is not what is driving the conflict. It is imperative that we unpack what is happening for the individuals through an assessment process. To understand what is motivating individual differences, leading to disagreement, one must actively and openly listen to what is being presented.

Take the example of two children fighting over an orange, it is easy for a parent to halve the orange and put a stop to the arguing. However, if the parent took the time to understand what was driving the conflict, they may learn that one child needs the pulp to make a cake and the other wants the juice to drink. It is important that we understand what the drivers of conflict are, as these motivating factors represent what lies underneath the conflict being presented.

Empathise without aligning

This can be difficult to achieve, particularly if we have preconceived ideas of what the conflict is about. To build rapport with the parties it is imperative that we actively listen and empathise with their situation. For example, "it sounds like this has been a difficult time for you", "I can hear that you are confused and upset". These statements reflect the ability to empathise with the persons situation as well as demonstrates active listening, this approach leads to effective rapport building without aligning with the aggrieved person.

Aligning involves agreeing with one of the parties and/or justifying their actions or behaviours. For example, "It sounds like the other party was out of line", "You have every right to be angry, I would be too". Aligning leads not only to ineffective conflict resolution strategies but can also lead to an escalation of conflict and/or further complaints.

Adopt a strength-based and solution focussed philosophy

Operating from a place where we acknowledge that everyone has strengths, they bring to the workplace sets the foundation for a solution focused approach to conflict resolution. If we can support the conflicted parties understand their strengths, we create an environment where positive and future focused agreements can arise, where people can feel confident and in control of their professionalism.


At WISE Workplace, our specialist mediators and workplace engagement experts can assist you to resolve workplace conflict in a timely and effective manner for lasting results and thriving interpersonal relationships. Contact us on 1300 580 685.  

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