Author: Richard Ludvigsen – HR Generalist for Jumpstart:HR


A simple fact of life, as long as there has been work, there have been different methods of success.  We, as managers, need to understand that different people with different goals will produce conflicts from time to time and its long-term results need to be limited.  Conflicts are not always bad but we need to mitigate the effects and focus on the positive moves that can come from it.  How you manage these issues will make the difference between positive and negative outcomes.

Be resolving the conflict you have the opportunity to address the root.  If you keep an open ear and sharp eye you can find resolutions to circumstances that you might not have been fully aware of.  You also stand a good chance to:

  • Increase understanding: The discussion needed to resolve conflict expands people’s awareness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people.
  • Increase group cohesion: When conflict is resolved effectively, team members can develop stronger mutual respect, and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.
  • Improve self-knowledge: Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals in close detail , helping them understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness.

Unsuccessful handing of such situations are damaging, not only between the parties but also to moral, cohesion, productivity.  Damaged parties and hurt individuals will lead to apathy of talent, creating a vicious downward spiral crippling the organization’s ability to be affective.  It is your job as a manager to stem these conflicts before it can become a cycle.



The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) was developed in the 1970s, which comprises of five different styles that vary in cooperation between the parties and the assertiveness of the individuals.  Depending on the thought that each individual has their own favorite version of how to handle their own conflicts, this model creates descriptions for each style.  When using this model you need to know the five different styles while finding a method the conflicting parties can agree to operate under.

Competitive: This is a style used by people who take a firm stand knowing what they want; operating from a position of power drawing on things like rank, position, expertise, or persuasive ability.  This is a fast style, great in situations of immediacy or emergency, when direction is paramount.  Competitive style can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied, and resent when used in non-urgent scenarios.

Collaborative: When you want to meet the needs of the involved parties then this is the best option.  The level of assertiveness can vary from high to low but it rests on the notion that everyone is important.  This is great for trying to finding a meeting point for the variety of viewpoints for the best solution.  Outcomes from using this style are commonly referred to as “win-win” scenarios.

Compromising: A solution finding method that will at least partially satisfy the parties.  It will expect that each party forfeit something to find the common ground.  Useful when the cost of the conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground; when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and there is a deadline looming.  Compromising is effective when the budget remains unchanged but the organization needs to adapt.

Accommodating:  This style has the least ability to resolve the situation.  It depends on person’s desire to forfeit some part of the conflict to achieve a peace.  It can also be thought of as the Martyr approach.  Accommodating people will sometimes give up a position for the team or allow themselves to be manipulated to surrender.  This person is not highly assertive person but is highly cooperative.  A style that is only valuable when the whole is bigger than the individual or peace is more important than winning.  Often surrendering in return for a favor, but rarely in the real world will someone return the owed favor.  While the initial problem may in fact be resolved the manager may create further problems on a long term scale with the individual who may harbor resentment or a bruised ego.

Avoiding:  Characterized by delegating the decision, accepting default situations, or worried about hurting other people’s feelings.  The weakest and most ineffectual style relies on two extremes; the conflict is trivial relying on the protocols to solve the problem.  When the problem is too big for the person to solve on their own.  Avoiding the problem or the people may leave the manager vulnerable to views of being an ineffectual leader or unconcerned with the people.  Follow up is always recommended but when this is only style available for resolution then it becomes mandatory.

Knowing the styles and variations help you understand how the different parties will approach the mediation meeting.  This will allow you adopt a resolution method, either through finding common ground, or developing a hybrid methodology.  Regardless of the method type manager should identify and resolve the problem, respect the legitimate interests, and mend any damaged relationships.


Interest-Based Rational Approach

A six step theory taking an approach to respect individual opinions while trying to focus on the goal and not taking fixed positions.  These steps are designed to keep discussions positive and constructive rather than antagonistic.  It is usually a good idea to make each party aware of their obligations in this paradigm to remain focused on the problem and not each other, staying positive.

  • Good relationships are the first priority:  It is important to make sure that the conversation stays calm to treat the other party with respect.  Both parties have to remain constructive under pressure.
  • Keep the people and the problems separate: Real and valid difference may exist between the two parties, that neither one of them is just being difficult.  The constructive conversation is not accusatory but focuses on the circumstances of the conflict and tries to revolve those.
  • Pay attention to the interests being presented: Though listening to the words, syntax, body language, and pauses you can discover and understand why the person is adopting their position.
  • Listen first, talk second:  As a manager you are responsible for understanding both the situation and the parties responsible.  Most people who get into an argument really just want to be heard.  When a conflict escalates they want to know that the other party is acknowledging their valid point.  Listening while mediating the problem will keep the other party from becoming defensive, risking the loss of any progress.
  • Set out the facts: Walk through the problem minus emotions and opinions.  Both parties have to agree on the objective, observable elements of the problem.  The facts can not be argued with and once those become the focus and not the people then the first real forward progress has been made.  This is the sign that the problem has become the focus and you as a manager can fully resolve the issue at hand.
  • Explore options together: Explore possible options to solving the problem from simple procedure steps to a possibility that neither side was wrong just utilizing different methodologies.  As a manager be mindful of real third party options. Doing this as a group brings the team together.


Action Steps

Step One: Set the Scene

Keeping control of the situation is not about being the person who talks the most.  It is about making sure that both parties understand who is listening, who is making the final decisions, and who genuinely wants to see the conflict resolved with the least amount of discipline or embarrassment. You are trying to resolve the problem through negotiation rather than raw aggression.

Active listening and observation of the problem at hand and the people involved to ensure you hear and understand the parties’ perceptions and positions.  Trying to keep the people whole and addressing the problem is the ultimate goal of the two theories for conflict resolution.

Restate, paraphrase, and summarize the positions whenever possible so the conflicting parties know that you understand the situation.  Always use an adult, assertive approach instead of a submissive or aggressive style.

 Step Two: Gather Information

Know the facts of the case and talk to witnesses.  Get the people to write statements keeping to the facts and the observations without emotions.  Has this been a problem in the making, now finally coming to a head?  What were the warning signs?  A mediator or manager walking to the meeting will have better success keeping the focus if they can anticipate the direction the parties will take.  Remember to remain confident and flexible, clarifying meanings where needed.  Understand the problem in objective terms.

Step Three:  Agree to the Problem

Setting out the problem is may be the most obvious step but without it concerned parties will be free to allow the conversation to roam around anything but the problem.  They may begin to revert to their emotional stances i.e. the things that lead to them being wronged.  If the problem can’t be agreed upon then the solution is impossible.  Then the best you can hope for is a band-aid, not a healing.  If you cannot agree on the problem then you need to see what the parties see as the problem and try to fix those issues.  Finger pointing and the blame game are agreeing to the problem just rehashing the problem and settling in to fix it.

Step Four: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

The only way for all parties to feel as though the solution is a viable one is if they have had a part in its creation.  This is often referred to as their “Buy in”.  Allowing people the opportunity to state their own wishes may show all that they may not be as disparate as first thought.  Possible solutions should be written for everyone involved to see.  A positive attitude is paramount to making sure that common ground and a satisfying resolution maybe reached.

Step Five: Negotiate a Solution

The brainstorming process will lead to favorable outcome.  You know which one is favorable through listening to reactions of the party when the point is discussed.  Both sides at this point may fully understand, or at least in part, the other’s point of view and what lead to the conflict initially.  This is final step upon negotiating the step then both parties know the outcome and it becomes a matter of execution.


During this time you may have uncovered some real, deep defining qualities between the two parties.  You can address these issues hopefully removing the possibility of other conflicts down the road.  Remember to resolve the initial problem before moving on the deep motivators.  Conflicts are only resolved when both parties understand the outcomes have been decided and executed.

Be calm.  Be Patient.  Be Respectful.