Resolving Conflict–this isn’t post-doctoral study, folks…

Conflict is a natural occurrence. In fact, it’s frequently a really good thing, allowing organizational success by way of diverse thinking. My favorite phrase: When reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is better served.

And I believe that. Of course, I could write a treatise on the reasonably intelligent and well-intentioned qualifiers, but that’s for a different posting…

Instead, I’m just going to provide some tips and tidbits for combatting unhealthy conflict. Not to silent healthy conflict, mind you; I’m referring to the other kind. The simple, three-step model for conflict resolution has always been:

  1. Get all the facts on the table,
  2. Understand the others’ positions, and 
  3. Find a win-win solution.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that last step seemed to take a quantum leap of faith after the first two. Here are some specifics that may help to bring that leap of faith back to something closer to a normal acceptance of logic…

  • Listen. No, not that kind of listening… really listen. Listen to understand, not refute. Listen to find common ground, not to validate your position. Listen, hard.
  • Don’t interrupt. Your parents told you that–you should have listened to them (see guidance above). Keep your blankety-blank trap shut and let someone talk. You can’t listen if you don’t, and the very act of obvious respect may act as a conflict-resolving catalyst. Stranger things have happened. And while we’re discussing interruptions… opening your mouth, shaking your head, and otherwise demonstrating your desire to speak are all interruptions, even if no noise comes out of your pie hole. Don’t do it.
  • Use “I” messages. Yes, we learned that ridiculously basic, 3-part feedback technique in Communications 101 (did you take notes?). They are as useful and viable as ever, and even more so when resolving conflict. 
    • “When you…”
    • “I feel…”
    • “Because…”

          Remember, our goal is to resolve conflict–really change

          behavior–not to simply win.

  • Ask. If you really want to know “what it will take” for someone to get over a conflict situation, it may be as simple as simply asking. Give it a shot.

Conflict may be necessary for successful organizations, but unhealthy conflict is never part of that need. As leaders, we must identify it, address it, deal with it.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann


  1. Tony Sommer says

    Listening to understand, not to refute, is key. I smile because so much of sales training is based on asking a question…listening to the answer…and then asking the next question. It's like a flow chart.

    But it breaks down if you don't really listen.

    Good post.

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