All of us have times of conflict with others. We don’t all think or behave exactly alike, and we have different ideas, priorities, backgrounds, and sensitivities. Working toward resolving conflict can feel intimidating. It can feel scary and puzzling to sort through our emotions. What does it really take to resolve conflict? While all conflicts are different, a few key steps can really help you and others find your way through to harmony.

Notice your feelings

Think through what you are really experiencing, identify the names of your emotions, and write down what you think is happening. This writing is for your eyes only; its purpose is to help you get clear on the emotions you are experiencing and where they are coming from.

Stay in the truth

When we don’t know something for sure, we often make up a story or explanation in our minds about what we think might be happening—this is our effort to make sense of things. For example, if someone is short with us, we might believe they are unhappy with us or don’t respect us. But, they might have a headache or may be having a difficult day. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. If it becomes something that continues to upset you, it’s time to talk.

Invite the person to talk

Gently ask the person to talk with you at a later time so they don’t feel caught off guard by a serious discussion right on the spot. Don’t talk about the conflict with other people—even though you might want to talk with others in your effort to understand the problem, this only causes discord. Before you talk with the person directly, remind yourself that the goal of the talk is not to prove yourself right or to blame. The goal is for both people to understand each other and see if any helpful changes can be made for the future.

Don’t delay

If you are in conflict, don’t put off talking it through with the person. The longer your emotions stew, the more resentful you may become. Researcher Brene Brown advises, “Choose discomfort over resentment.” In other words, it is better to have hard, uncomfortable conversations than to avoid them, because there is so much good that can come from them.

Talk it out

  • Share. Share with the person what you experienced and your feelings surrounding the issue. Try not to assign blame but simply walk through the behaviors and the emotions that came up for you. Explain the “story you are making up” and invite them to share what they experienced.
  • Listen. Many of us rehearse our reply in our mind while the other person is still talking, especially when we are feeling defensive. This is not real listening. Tell yourself, “I’m strong enough to listen to what they have to say.” And really listen, putting yourself in their position. Stay curious.
  • Practice empathy. This person has a struggle in the conflict, too. It isn’t easy for either of you. Each of you may feel defensive, so be gentle with one another.
  • Push pause. If either of you get too angry to continue talking, take a break. You can come back to the discussion later.
  • Be realistic. Know that some problems are unsolvable (maybe it’s a fixed schedule, circumstance, or a long-standing personality difference), but the way we treat each other is something we can control.
  • Own your part. By taking ownership of your part in the conflict, you are not allowing the other person to “win”—it takes real courage to hold yourself accountable. Ask yourself, “If I could re-do the conflict, what would I do differently?” Talk that through with the other person. Ask them if there is anything they would do differently. By owning your part, you are telling the person, “I care more about making things right than being right.
  • Come up with a plan. Talk about what both of you will do if one of you gets triggered or a new conflict arises. You can be kind and also set boundaries at the same time. You might ask for them to be mindful of the tone of voice they are using, or say that you will ask for help if your workload gets too high. It’s important to talk about specific behaviors to set you both up for success.

Circle back

Sometimes it takes time to fully realize our emotions around a situation. If something doesn’t sit right with you and it is really important, go to the person and revisit what happened. Repeat the steps above: talk about what happened, share the story you may have made up in your effort to understand, and show genuine interest in their side of what happened. 

When to get support

If you have tried to talk with the person, but emotions are still high and people are unhappy, it’s time to talk with a manager. Sometimes we all need help navigating conflict resolution, and that is OK. Remember, conflict is a normal part of life, and it offers each of us an opportunity to show up and be brave, to be the kind of person we want to be, and ultimately, grow relationships. We’re here to help you along the way. We can do this!

Commitment to Coworker Statement in our Mission, Visions & Values Booklet

My commitment to my coworkers: 
  • I am responsible for establishing and maintaining good relationships with my co-workers.
  • I will look for ways to encourage you in your work, realizing that we all need support and affirmation.
  • I will give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • I will not talk about you behind your back. If I have an issue, I will come to you directly. I will only seek guidance from my manager if I need input on how to have the conversation or if we have been unable to resolve our conflict.
  • I will look for solutions. My goal will not be to win an argument, but to reach a resolution.
  • I will consider the past the past and will forgive and move on.