conflict resolution training leaders conversation

Conflict is an unavoidable part of the workplace; it can result in positive or negative outcomes depending on how a leader or employee approaches the subject. Conflict resolution training supports positive outcomes when there is dissention between two or more people in the workplace. A widely-cited report from CPP Global found that 85% of employees are faced with conflict resolution, costing US companies a stunning $359 billion each year.1 While most employees and leaders would like to resolve conflicts with optimal outcomes, they’re often held back by misunderstanding where conflict comes from or not having the skills to address disagreements.

Training is available as a live trainer-led webinar or onsite in-person program.

How can leaders and employees in the workplace settle conflict in a constructive way, leading to improved team dynamics and productivity?

Conflict Resolution Course Description

Conflict resolution training, led by Diversity Builder, Inc. will build foundational knowledge about conflict, starting with what conflict is, cover and how it emerges in the workplace, how conflict may escalate if unaddressed, and how to resolve conflicts with emotional intelligence and powerful communication techniques. Realistic examples and guided discussions help learners examine and address potential sources of conflict, giving them the tools to work harmoniously with coworkers and teams.

Training Objectives

  • Understand what conflict is and its causes
  • Pinpoint difference between being direct and being confrontational
  • Be aware of how conflict can result in team dysfunction for leaders
  • Recognize emotions behind the conflict
  • Assess your workplace conflict resolution style
  • Know key strategies in communicating with empathy when managing conflict
  • Identity when to have a challenging or crucial conversation
  • Know how to adjust your approach to conflict resolution resulting from different conflict styles of employees of leaders
  • Recognize the 5 Stages of Conflict
  • Know effective conflict resolution strategies
  • Identify follow-up strategies after a challenging conversation

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    What is conflict, and how does it show up in the workplace?

    What is conflict? Conflict can simply be defined as a strong difference in opinion. It results from different perceptions, values, opinions, and assumptions. It is a process of working through opposing views in order to reach common goals or a mutual purpose.2

    Conflict arises when a person’s wants are not matching up with their reality. Put another way, conflict happens when there’s a difference in values, perceptions, or assumptions between two parties. Conflict management training will focus on bridging these differences as well as how to bring people together through finding a shared purpose or goal.3

    How Conflict Contributes to Dysfunctional Teams

    Conflict is arguably one of the largest contributors to underperforming or dysfunctional workplaces, taking a toll on employee well-being and even their health. A study released in 2022 found that managers on average spend more than 4 hours per week dealing with conflict. The same study found that dealing with conflict at work has a direct impact on a person’s job satisfaction and sense of inclusion.4 The presence of unresolved conflict often contributes toward dysfunction among workplace teams.

    Moreover, another study of almost 1500 workers dealing with work-related stress from various kinds of conflict found that the majority of respondents reported strong feelings of anger, depression, and/or work-related stress disorders.5 These issues were true for workers across various industries, ranging from entry-level positions to leaders and executives. Because conflict negatively impacts both managers and their employees, costing an organization valuable time and potentially talented workers, there are clear benefits to conflict resolution training in the workplace.

    [2] Kazakos-Tate, Katerina. Conflict Resolution Management training (Diversity Builder, Inc.)
    [3] Kazakos-Tate, Katerina. Workplace Conflict Resolution Management training (Diversity Builder, Inc.)
    [4] PR Newswire. New research: Time spent on workplace conflict has doubled since 2008. (2022, October 18).
    [5] Castellini, Giovanna, et. al. (2023, January 21). Conflicts in the workplace, negative acts and health consequences: evidence from a clinical evaluation. Industrial Health.

    How Conflict Arises at Work

    In working environments, conflict often arises from disagreements over processes (how work gets done or distributed), identifying solutions (about the best way to resolve an issue or divide resources), or relationships.6 These disagreements can feel personal when staff believe that their expertise or autonomy aren’t being respected, making it more difficult to address the tension in a neutral way without guidelines or assistance. Conflict can also arise between individuals with different lived experiences, expectations, values, assumptions, or knowledge. For example, some employees might be inclined to directly discuss issues in the moment, while others are accustomed to addressing them indirectly (through subtle comments or nonverbal behavior). These types of cultural or interpersonal differences, in which each side perceives the other as being impolite, exacerbates tensions between coworkers and teams. Many of these issues arise from breakdowns in communication and understanding, which will be addressed below.

    Benefits of Conflict

    While conflict is sometimes uncomfortable or even distressing, it serves a crucial purpose in the workplace. There are many benefits that arise from conflict. Without conflict, employees wouldn’t be able to identify weaknesses in a potential initiative, for example. By exchanging opinions, people gather a variety of perspectives and strengthen their work or ideas. One key benefit of conflict is that it  provides an important outlet for expressing needs, whether it’s autonomy over the direction of a project, recognition from a supervisor, or something else. By surfacing issues, people are empowered to discuss and resolve tensions and to move forward.7 Even if conflict is healthy and necessary, however, employees still need to know how to address it in constructive, non-damaging ways. The following sections outline these topics, with specific examples and best practices for conflict resolution.

    Assessing Conflict

    Depending on their personality type and the situation at hand, leaders and employees have very different approaches to conflict. While employees might recognize that some situations call for compromise, assertiveness, or something in between, it can be difficult to decide which approach is best in the middle of a tense interaction. When deciding how to move forward, it’s helpful to consider the stakes in a situation (how important it is to achieve one’s goal) and the importance of one’s relationship with the other party. This approach describes the Thomas-Kilmann conflict model, in which degree of assertiveness and degree of cooperativeness determine a preferred strategy for conflict resolution. If

    someone is highly motivated to achieve their own goals, they would rate highly on assertiveness in this system. Cooperativeness, on the other hand, describes someone’s willingness to defer to the other party to preserve the relationship.8

    Here are the strategies for dealing with conflict in this model, along with the potential benefits and downsides:

    5 Strategies for Effectively Dealing with Workplace Conflict

    • Avoidance. If an employee doesn’t consider their goal critical, and they aren’t concerned about building a relationship with the other party, they choose to avoid dealing with the issue. However, the conflict could escalate and become more of a problem in this scenario.
    • Competing. When an individual feels that their goal is very important and that relationships with others are not, they compete by being especially assertive or making a unilateral decision. While this can be a smart strategic choice in high-stakes situations, it also risks alienating others.
    • Accommodating. If maintaining a relationship takes priority over a specific goal, accommodation (giving the other party what they want) can be wise. However, relying too much on accommodation can result in groupthink and stagnation.
    • Compromising. When individuals value both their respective goals and their relationship with each other, they might be willing to compromise. While neither party gets everything they want, they both achieve some of their goals.
    • Collaborating. When both the relationship and the goal are highly important, the parties work together to find a satisfying solution. This requires thinking creatively and going beyond the obvious answers, but it’s preferable to the other options because it means that neither party will be left feeling shortchanged.
    Conflict Escalation Model

    Conflict In addition to understanding when to apply these various approaches, participants will learn to recognize when a conflict is escalating. Friedrich Glasl, an Austrian researcher on conflict, created a nine-stage model of conflict escalation. In this model, conflicts range from initial low-stakes disagreements, which can be easily resolved, to destructive situations in which resolution is nearly impossible. Depending on where a conflict falls on this spectrum in the model, the tools for resolving conflict issues look very different. For example, in the early stages of a conflict in which disagreement is mild, suggesting ground rules for civil engagement and reminding those involved of common goals can realign the parties. If a conflict has grown more hostile, however, the parties involved might need to be reminded that aggression and toxicity will harm both sides equally.9 The training will describe the different stages of conflict escalation within the model so that managers and employees recognize when a conversation is going in a contentious direction. By examining different scenarios, participants will gain critical experience in determining which of the previously mentioned solutions is appropriate in a given situation, empowering them to de-escalate conflicts and turn groups back towards shared goals.

    Steps to Resolving Conflict

    “The key to any successful conflict resolution is the ability to listen.”10

    Once the training has covered the basics of conflict and conflict assessment, it will move onto how to engage in and lead conflict resolution. This portion of the training incorporates emotional intelligence, communication strategies, and actionable tips for navigating workplace disagreements.

    Emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and those of others, is invaluable in improving workplace interactions.11 Being emotionally intelligent unlocks the ability to understand the other party in a conflict and to recognize satisfactory solutions. It also enables an individual to identify the feelings behind their own actions and to effectively communicate those to others. Without emotional intelligence, a person is merely reacting to one’s own emotions, or those of others’, without recognizing patterns of behavior.12 If both sides in a conflict can understand and express their states candidly, this builds trust and expedites the process of identifying a solution.

    The training outlines common hot button issues that can lead to interpersonal irritation and conflict. For example, a coworker who is perceived as unreliable or self-centered might provoke others and exacerbate existing workplace issues. In addition to personality clashes, demographic differences or stereotypes about specific groups can create conflict. For example, people in different generations might have very dissimilar approaches to work or communication norms. Participants will practice strategies for communicating across these differences and for valuing those with diverse backgrounds or ages. They will be prompted to recognize the issues that provoke them and to develop their style of conflict resolution to achieve workplace harmony.

    Poor communication more generally is a prominent source of workplace conflict.13 This can take the form of misunderstandings between employees. Two people might come away from a conversation with different understandings of what was decided on or expressed. Alternatively, tension or ambiguity can impede understanding. If coworkers are uncomfortable or mistrustful with one another, their communication will be stilted or unclear.

    Effective communication strategies are therefore crucial to the process of conflict resolution. When dealing with a tense situation, it’s helpful to center the conversation around facts (to avoid statements that can be disputed), to ask numerous questions to ensure understanding, and to reflect on the words of the other party before responding.14 Here are some specific strategies for improving communication, especially following tension or conflict.

    • Begin by affirming the other party’s perspective (“I can see why you feel that way”)
    • Take a break if interactions become tense or escalate
    • Don’t talk negatively about the other person with other parties
    • Demonstrate humility – be willing to apologize and admit fault
    • Show empathy for the other person and imagine their perspective

    Addressing conflict can be arduous and intimidating for employees and managers alike. However, becoming proficient in these skills is critical for everyone. Conflict resolution training will empower employees to advocate for their goals while working together with mutual understanding and greater empathy for one another.

    Further Reading – Article List

    Interested in learning more? Take a look at the following resources cited in this article on workplace conflict, conflict resolution strategies, and more.

    Campbell, S. (2016, July 28). The 10 benefits of conflict.

    Castellini, Giovanna, et. al. (2023, January 21). Conflicts in the workplace, negative acts and health consequences: evidence from a clinical evaluation. Industrial Health.

    Chastain, Ann. (2013, June 27). Use your emotional intelligence to deal with others in conflict more effectively. Michigan State University Extension.

    Cote, Catherine. (2023, September 7). 5 strategies for conflict resolution in the workplace. Harvard Business School Online.

    CSP Global. (n.d.) Common workplace conflicts and how to overcome them.

    Kazakos-Tate, Katerina. Conflict Resolution Management training.

    McFadyen, John. Exploring Glasl’s model of conflict resolution. (n.d.). Growing Scrummasters.

    PR Newswire. New research: Time spent on workplace conflict has doubled since 2008. (2022, October 18).