No matter how well your team gets along, conflicts can occur frequently in the workplace. Although it can be awkward, conflict can actually be productive in some cases. For example, you might disagree with a colleague’s decision and work together to find a better solution, or you could receive constructive criticism from your manager that motivates you to become a better team member. These minor conflicts can lead to personal growth and strengthen your relationships.
However, workplace conflict can be destructive and stressful if not managed properly. According to the McKinsey Health Institute, one out of four employees have experienced high rates of toxic behavior at work. Toxic behavior includes competition between colleagues, abusive management and other interpersonal conflicts.1
If you find yourself struggling with how to resolve disputes at work, this article explores effective strategies to strengthen conflict resolution and negotiation skills.
Understanding Different Types of Conflict
Understanding the different types of workplace conflict can help you find effective resolutions. Let’s explore the common types of conflict you’ll face.
Interpersonal conflict is a disagreement between two or more parties. This type of conflict often occurs when coworkers have clashing goals, values or communication styles.2 For example, you might perceive a colleague as rude and abrasive, but they believe they’re communicating directly.
Task conflict occurs when group members have different opinions about completing projects or accomplishing goals.2 A marketing professional could experience task conflict if they want to promote their brand on social media, but their manager prefers more traditional marketing methods.
Process conflict arises when people have different decision-making and problem-solving processes.2 Team members could have differing views about how to spend a budget or when to hold meetings.
Essential Communication Skills for Negotiation
The negotiation process doesn't come naturally to most people. Strengthening the communication skills below can help you negotiate conflict effectively.
Active Listening and Empathetic Communication
Disagreements often occur when people feel misunderstood or have different perspectives. You can use active listening to mitigate conflict and negotiate mutually agreeable solutions. Give colleagues your full attention when you speak with them, maintaining eye contact and asking questions to show you’re engaged.3 Reiterate points that they have raised, use their name when possible and try to find common ground.
Empathetic communication can also help you understand the viewpoints of others. Acknowledge their negative emotions and invite them to collaborate to find a resolution.3
While it’s important to show empathy, that doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat. You can remain assertive by setting firm boundaries and standing up for your rights in a respectful manner.4 State what your desired outcome is, acknowledge conflicting interests and don't falter when you don't hear what you would like to hear the first time around.
Assertiveness can boost your self-confidence and expedite the negotiation process.4 For example, you could calmly tell your manager that you won’t answer emails on your vacation and ask them to help you develop a plan to manage the workload while you’re away.
Negotiation Skills and Strategies
Business professionals often need to negotiate with clients, colleagues and leaders to find solutions. You can develop your negotiation skills by practicing in low-stakes situations, like if you’re about to renew your Internet service contract and want to try requesting a lower price. In this scenario, there's no true "winner"; both people don't win or lose anything significant. These small opportunities can help you with negotiation techniques and to become a more confident negotiator.5
Regular negotiation is a bit different than conflict negotiation, though. Negotiators often use one of two primary approaches for dispute resolution.
Win-lose negotiation is also known as distributive negotiation. All parties try to win the negotiation by receiving the maximum benefits or payoffs. Win-lose negotiation often involves haggling and competitive tactics.6 If your end goal for the conflict management is that one party is the clear winner, then this can be a possible negotiation strategy, but beware of lingering disappointment or unfair distribution.
Win-win negotiation is also called integrative negotiation. This approach involves all parties collaborating to get the optimal outcome for everyone. Integrative negotiation typically leads to more positive and longer-term agreements than win-lose scenarios.6
Conflict Resolution Styles
There are five main conflict resolution styles:7
- Avoidance: Ignoring the conflict and leaving it unresolved
- Accommodative: One party concedes their position to the other
- Competitive: One party wins the conflict, and the other loses
- Compromise: Both parties sacrifice part of their solution to reach an agreement
- Collaborative: All parties work together to create a mutually agreeable solution
A collaborative approach typically leads to the best negotiated agreement and the best outcome for all parties. However, you may choose other styles in certain scenarios. For example, temporary avoidance could help you de-escalate a volatile argument until all parties are in a better mindset for more collaborative solutions.7
Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Resolution
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your feelings and the feelings of others. This skill helps you control negative emotions during conflict and treat the other party empathetically. It also enables you to resolve conflicts tactfully.8
Mediation and Third-Party Intervention
A mediator is a neutral third party who helps people discuss their conflicts. Mediation facilitates positive communication and enables participants to work together to create solutions. It can be useful when parties can’t agree on a resolution by themselves.9
Negotiating Across Cultures
Cultural intelligence can reduce conflict between people from different backgrounds and nationalities. This involves learning about other cultures and adapting your behavior to the context. Cross-cultural negotiation also requires flexibility and the willingness to find creative compromises.10
Dealing With Difficult Personalities
You’ll inevitably encounter people with challenging personalities throughout your career. Your difficult coworkers may act passive-aggressively, be overly pessimistic or dominate conversations.11
Respond to these colleagues with calmness and professionalism. For example, you can politely call out interruptions if your coworker speaks over you and reframe a pessimist’s negative remarks more constructively.11
Strategies for Effective Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
Decision-making and problem-solving skills enable you to get to the root of conflicts, resolve differences and create positive outcomes. Follow these steps to solve problems effectively:12
- Define the issue
- Brainstorm as many solutions as possible
- Consider the benefits and costs of each option
- Decide on an achievable solution or combine options for the best resolution
- Assess progress and change tactics if the first solution fails
Advance Your Career With a Strong Foundation in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution and negotiation skills are essential in the modern business environment. Develop all the skills you need to thrive as a business leader in Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business online MBA program. You’ll develop an entrepreneurial mindset as you take courses on leadership and emotional intelligence, negotiations and other vital topics. The program also includes an optional five-day residency in Tel Aviv, Israel, or New York City. This experience allows you to expand your professional network and strengthen your innovation skills.
Make your career a priority and schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from mckinsey.com/mhi/our-insights/addressing-employee-burnout-are-you-solving-the-right-problem
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1271240.pdf
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from shrm.org/topics-tools/news/employee-relations/how-to-identify-address-conflict-workplace
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from amanet.org/articles/assertive-approach-conflict-resolution/
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from hbr.org/2021/08/we-often-overlook-opportunities-to-negotiate
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-management-and-organization/article/distributiveintegrative-negotiation-strategies-in-crosscultural-contexts-a-comparative-study-of-the-usa-and-italy/
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470432/
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJCMA-03-2021-0050/full/pdf
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from nyc.gov/site/oath/conflict-resolution/what-is-mediation.page
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from tradecouncil.org/cross-cultural-negotiation-techniques/
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from hbr.org/2023/05/3-types-of-difficult-coworkers-and-how-to-work-with-them
- Retrieved on January 3, 2024, from hapafoundation.org/problem-solving-a-guide-to-effective-decision-making/