Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Conflict is a natural part of our personal and work lives. But there are times when conflict within a work team can escalate to become a serious problem. An organization’s ability to resolve employee conflict can have a big impact on its overall success. In addition to creating a better work atmosphere for all employees, effective conflict resolution can help:

  • Increase productivity
  • Improve customer service and satisfaction
  • Increase profitability
  • Boost employee retention
  • Companies reach their business goals more quickly


For advice on how to effectively resolve conflict in the workplace, we turned to an expert in the field of conflict resolution - Nanci Raphael, President and CEO of Philadelphia, PA-based Leadership and Executive Development, LLC. From Fortune 500 companies, to mid-size organizations to family-run businesses, Raphael has provided management consultant and leadership development services to business leaders and their teams for more than 20 years.

Raphael uses the analogy of rowers on a Viking ship to demonstrate the impact conflict within a work team can have on an entire organization. If one or more of the Viking rowers starts to paddle in a rhythm opposing the rest of his group, she describes, the ship will slow down and take longer to reach its destination. “Yet when a team is aligned and everyone is working together, results come more quickly.”


Warning Signs of Conflict within the Ranks
Although conflict between co-workers is often obvious to other members of a team, in many situations it is not always apparent to a manager or business owner. According to Raphael, the signs that you may have a conflict problem within a work team include:

  • A high turnover rate: You have to frequently replace people within a team.
  • Silence: There’s an obvious lack of differing opinions among co-workers.
  • Lack of involvement: People are not showing up for meetings.
  • Posturing: Egos are in full force, defenses are up, and you may sense aggressiveness among team players.
  • Lack of accountability: There’s little ownership of work and a lot of finger pointing of blame.
  • Team goals are not being met: Team members are not aligned, so work is not getting done efficiently.

A 6-Step Method for Solving Team Conflict

Communication is the key to successful conflict resolution. “What’s most important is that people want to be heard and listened to,” says Raphael. To resolve conflict within a team, Raphael has found repeated success in the following 6-step method:

1. Get all parties involved in the conflict to sit down together
Invite all the team members involved in the conflict to sit down together in a room with a facilitator who will mediate the discussion. Whether the facilitator is the company owner, manager, an outside coach, or other team member, he or she must remain neutral at all times. “Then, throw away the key,” says Raphael. In other words, commit to working together until a resolution to the conflict is agreed upon by all parties.

2. Set ground rules
The facilitator sets the ground rules and has everyone agree to them before starting the discussion. Ground rules include:
- No interruptions when one person has the floor
- No criticisms of the other person’s thoughts and feelings
- No aggressive behavior

3. Each person involved in the conflict gets to speak his or her peace
One at a time, the workers tell their side of the conflict. The facilitator’s role is to be sure all aspects of the conflict are brought out. Raphael suggests, “The facilitator should keep saying, ‘Is there anything else?’ until the person is done and there’s silence.”

4. Put the issues in writing
Whether it’s on a note pad or white board, the facilitator should make a list of the problems causing the conflict.

5. Agree on an action step
Each person chooses one major issue and agrees on a course of action to solve the problem. For example, if one employee feels a team member is not pulling his or her weight, ask what it would take to improve the situation. Perhaps the other person could get to work 15 minutes earlier and leave 5 minutes later?

6. Set a follow-up meeting to evaluate the results
Meet again in one or two weeks to determine if the action step has helped resolve the conflict. Raphael observes the majority of cases are usually resolved by the second meeting. The workers involved in the conflict had their say and they’re working together to solve the problem. However, if there’s still conflict, set another action step and meet again in another couple of weeks.