10 Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies for Leaders (with Example)

Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of human relationships. 

It's a good idea to use conflict resolution strategies in the workplace. Otherwise, it can negatively affect job satisfaction and productivity.

Leaders often face the task of managing conflict among team members. While it's tempting to ignore conflict or hope that it will resolve itself, this is usually not the best course of action. 

In this post, we'll discuss ten effective conflict resolution strategies for leaders. We'll also look at an example of how to use these strategies to resolve conflict on your team.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a disagreement or dispute. You can resolve workplace disputes through mediation, negotiation, or other means.

Benefits of conflict resolution

There are four main benefits of conflict resolution.

Improved communication

Resolving conflict can improve communication between members of your team. Opening up the lines of communication occurs as the parties involved learn how to express themselves. Each person comes to understand the needs of others over time. 

Increased understanding

Overcoming conflict helps business associates hear each other out. You should work on seeing things from a different perspective. It can help build a foundation for future successful relationships. Your ability in this area can also help during the interview process.

Reduced stress

Unresolved conflict often leads to an increase in anxiety and worry. By focusing on mediation, you'll more easily resolve underlying team stress. 

Improved relationships

Conflict management often strengthens relationships. It can help build trust and foster respect between parties.

Effective conflict resolution strategies for leaders

Leaders can use conflict resolution strategies to help resolve disagreements. 

  1. Employ open communication 

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to encourage open communication among team members. When people feel like they can express themselves without fear of retribution, it can go a long way in preventing conflict. 

As a leader, you should remain accessible to your team. Make yourself available to hear concerns and address them as soon as possible.

  1. Let the person explain themselves and actively listen 

Give the other person a chance to explain their side of the story. It can help prevent misunderstandings. You’ll also gain insight into what might be causing the conflict. 

Actively listen to what the other person says. This type of listening means you're fully present and engaged with the other person. It also means remaining respectful and refraining from interrupting. 

Some active listening techniques include:

  • Making eye contact
  • Nodding
  • Summarizing what the other person tells you

  1. Remain calm 

Avoid getting defensive or angry when other parties express negative emotions. If you can stay calm, it's easier to find a resolution.

Try these tips for remaining calm:

  • Breathing deeply
  • Counting to ten
  • Visualizing a relaxing scene

  1. Don't take anything personally 

When someone feels upset, it's easy to think they're angry with you. However, this isn't always the case. It's important to remember that conflict is about the issue and not you.

It's often about the disagreement between two people you're leading. Try to remain objective and remove yourself from the situation emotionally.

  1. Remain Impartial

As a leader, taking sides or showing favoritism is never a good idea. If you appear biased, it can make the situation worse and damage your relationships with those involved. 

As the objective party, you can avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. You may want to seek counsel and get input from other people who weren't involved in the conflict. It can give you a more well-rounded perspective of what happened. 

Don't talk behind people's backs while getting counsel from others. You shouldn’t cross a line that can turn into a gossip situation. If you have something to say about a person, say it to that person directly.

  1. Pay attention to nonverbal communication

Nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice, can often reveal how a person is feeling. 

Some common nonverbal cues to look for include:

  • Crossed arms
  • Clenched fists
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Yelling
  • Slamming items

If you see this type of nonverbal communication, it's a good indication that the person is feeling angry or defensive. In your next steps, you must help them feel more comfortable and safe. Helping your colleague feel heard will calm them down and allow for productive dialogue.

  1. Use “yes and” statements

Agreeing with the other person can help diffuse the situation. It shows that you're listening and trying to see things from their perspective. 

However, simply agreeing with the other person isn't enough. You also need to add your thoughts to the conversation.  

Some examples of “yes and” statements include:

  • "Yes, I understand how you feel AND I think we can find a way to work through this together."

  • "Yes, it sounds like you're upset AND let's see if we can figure out a solution."

  • "Yes, I hear what you're saying AND I think we should talk to Jane about this too."

Here's a different way to phrase your words using this conflict resolution strategy, "I understand that you're upset and haven’t felt heard up until now. I also think we need to find a way to compromise."

  1. Use "I" statements

A leader can't fall into the trap of pointing fingers and placing blame. Instead, try using "I" statements. This type of statement can remove the other person’s focus and allow you to share your feelings. 

Here are a few examples of "I" statements to try:

  • "I can see how my part in this might have upset you."
  • "I'm sorry for the way I reacted."
  • "I'm frustrated too."
  • "I want to find a way to resolve this."

By using "I" statements, you're showing that you're taking responsibility for your actions. You're opening up the conversation and inviting the other person to do the same. It's also helpful to genuinely apologize. An apology can diffuse a tense situation and help the other person feel less tense. 

  1. Prioritize resolving the conflict over being right

As a leader, remember that conflict resolution is more important than being right. It's okay to admit when you're wrong. What's not okay is allowing the conflict to continue because you're too stubborn or proud to admit that you're wrong.

A subset of conflict prioritization is knowing how to pick your battles.

You don’t need to feel pressure to resolve every conflict between team members. In some cases, it's best to agree to disagree. This is especially true if the conflict isn't important or if it would take too much time and energy to resolve it. 

Before you try to resolve a conflict, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this conflict worth my time and energy?
  • What are the potential risks of resolving this conflict?
  • What are the potential risks of not resolving this conflict?
  • What is the best possible outcome of this conflict?
  • What is the worst possible outcome of this conflict?

If you decide that the conflict isn't worth your time and energy, let it go. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with the other person. It just means that you're not going to spend any more time or energy on it. 

  1. Show a willingness to compromise or collaborate

Collaborating and compromising are key conflict resolution strategies. During a conflict, remain open to hearing the other person's ideas. You don't have to agree with everything they say. However, you should always consider their perspective

Some ways to show that you're open to compromise or collaboration include:

"I like your idea about _____, but what if we also did _____?"

"That's a great idea. Let's see how we can combine it with my idea."

"I'm not sure if that will work, but I'm open to trying it."

"Let me think about that. I might be able to come up with a different solution that we can both agree on."

If you're unwilling to budge, you're likely to find yourself in the same conflict again. Revealing that you're willing to compromise can help you find solutions that work for both parties.

Example: How to Apply the strategies to Solve Conflicts

The following is an example of how you might use conflict resolution strategies to solve a problem.

You're the leader of a team that's working on a project. One of your team members, John, consistently arrives late to meetings. His actions have caused problems because it disrupts the flow of the meeting. It prevents other team members from sharing their ideas. 

You've tried talking to John about his delay, but he still doesn't make an effort to arrive on time. You're not sure what else you can do.

One possible solution is to use the "I" statements strategy. You could say something like, "John, I noticed you've arrived late to our last three team meetings. I can see how this might disrupt the flow of the meeting and prevent other team members from sharing their ideas. I want to find a way to resolve this." 

Another strategy you could use is conflict prioritization. You could ask yourself if this conflict is worth your time and energy. You could also consider the potential risks of resolving the conflict. 

For example, you might decide that the conflict isn't worth your time if John is only a few minutes late to each meeting. However, you might decide that it's worth your time if John is consistently 30 minutes or more late. 

You could also use the compromise or collaboration strategy. You could say, "John, I noticed you've arrived late to our last three team meetings. I'm willing to try to find a way to resolve this if you're also willing to compromise. Can we agree on a time that works for both of us?" 

While resolving this conflict, remain calm and impartial. Allow John to express his feelings while using active listening techniques. Pay attention to John's nonverbal cues. 

Conclusion

Leaders should focus on learning conflict resolution skills. However, it's a skill that takes time and practice to develop. Give yourself time to improve with each passing day. By using these conflict resolution strategies in the workplace, you can become a better leader and problem solver.