Proactive Conflict Management In The Workplace

From our article on managing and embracing business change, this article deals with conflict in the workplace and, through a proactive approach, improves our management of these scenarios. Although a common by-product of change, we can show you a simple method to managing conflict that you can tailor to your style and circumstance. 

A helpful technique to facilitate a process to resolution is:

  • S – Situation
  • A – Alternatives
  • C – Consequences
  • S – Solution

How Do I Facilitate The Discussion?


  • State the problem – assess the impact the problem is having on you and the team. Determine what you would like to achieve by having the discussion; what issues would you liked raised;
  • Explain your role is to mediate and not arbitrate; you are not there to come to the solution, but rather to facilitate the parties to derive their own solutions;
  • Ask the first person to describe the situation and then the second to summarise what they have heard. This ensures someone starts the conversation and someone else listens, and;
  • Then repeat the process, reversing roles to allow each to appreciate how the other feels. Understanding another position is often facilitated.

Find a quiet place and allow sufficient time to achieve resolution.


  • Each person should list alternative ways of resolving the problem, and;
  • Use open questions to probe for ideas and test your understanding by restating alternatives. Our article looking into what effective communication looks like provides more details on using open questions and when they are appropriate and not:

So some good questions here could be, ‘what can you do differently?’ ‘how realistic is that?’ etc.

How Do I Facilitate The Discussion?


  • Ask each person to consider the consequences of the alternatives suggested. How would they impact not only them but others in the team, and;
  • Clarify and restate feasible solutions offered.

Do not impose a solution to the conflict. Ensure that both parties have worked together to find an acceptable outcome. The process they have worked through is just as crucial to the solution they have derived. The process provides them with a template for dealing with issues as they arise in the future. 


  • Gain commitment to the solution by both parties. This is where the integrity of the process is so critical. The more involved, or engaged, each party has been in the process the more committed they are going to be to follow-through on the solution, and;
  • Monitor progress achieved in the solution’s implementation, where appropriate.

Only as a last resort suggest a solution to the conflict. Sometimes a suggestion can help move a gridlock, help to open a path to move around a barrier. However, the risk in this approach is that one or more of the parties may not feel as committed to a solution that they have not contributed to its development. So although perhaps on the surface providing a means of immediate conflict resolution, a lack of commitment to the solution may be a long-term detriment.

How do I React to Conflict?

Conflict can be pretty stressful, and in times of stress, our reactions may differ due to how we naturally cope with it. So it is essential to know what is your natural, not what you think you should do, but the natural style you bring to conflict resolution. And do bear in mind that there is no perfect style here as there is no one perfect style for all situations. But if you are more aware of where your style naturally sits, you can then work on those areas where you need some development. By following this proactive approach to knowing yourself and other techniques available, you will be better equipped in your management of conflict as it arises.

What Do I Need to Know About the Different Styles?

There is no right or wrong style. To be effective, you need to decide which is the most appropriate style for the situation. Thomas and Kilman’s conflict model is one of the more popular, setting out five approaches or styles that can be adopted – and by no means are exclusive to each other.

  • Competing – “I win, you lose”. Use this approach for a quick decision when it’s critical to you, an unpopular issue, or in an emergency;
  • Collaborating – “I win, you win”. This can be an effective approach when used in group situations and in particular to gain commitment through involvement in the process; 
  • Accommodating – “I lose, you win”. This approach is often used where maintaining the relationship is more critical than the issue itself. So if an issue is unimportant to you, this technique can be very productive. However, if this is your natural style, be very careful; it’s not the one you always fall back to;
  • Compromising – “both win some, both lose some”. When time is short or the need to reach a temporary agreement, the compromise can be very effective. Also, when goals are moderately unimportant, or where competition/ collaboration have failed, the compromise can win through; and
  • Avoiding – “backing away, neither win nor lose”. Although often seen as a negative approach, avoiding can be effective when the issue is trivial and avoiding others can resolve conflict more effectively. Perhaps more information is required instead of an immediate solution or as a time out for individuals. Again, be wary if this is your natural style, as you do not want this to be your starting point in most cases.

How Can I Minimise the Risk of Conflict Occurring?

In adopting proactive management to conflict as it arises, it is crucial to:

  • Recognise and accept differences and diversity amongst people;
  • Do not automatically assume you are right and they are wrong (or as someone people do, assume they are right and you are wrong); 
  • Try not to be defensive if others disagree with you; try and be open to the process;
  • Listen to what people are really saying, show them the respect you expect to receive; 
  • Provide suitable avenues for people to express their feelings; 
  • Be honest with yourself and others;
  • Allocate time and energy to get to know people, and;
  • Try to ensure that people learn from past experience.

Other Hints and Tips to Help

When proactive conflict management is required, remember to:

  • Maintain an open and positive relationship and resolve the situation quickly and effectively; 
  • Do not emphasise your position and power; 
  • Remain neutral, and don’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgement. As best you can stick with the facts and consider the issues the other person has power to change and these things they don’t;
  • Restore a good working relationship by involving the person and treating them in the same way as the rest of the team;
  • Every conflict does not justify your attention;
  • You may not be able to resolve every conflict, and;
  • Evaluate where the conflict is coming from. Understanding what is motivating peoples’ actions can really help cut through to the core issues.

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