Techniques of Resolving Conflicts at Work


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Conflicts at the workplace are inevitable and occur due to misunderstanding and miscommunication among the team members. In the course of undertaking their responsibilities, people in an organization have to interact, a situation that forms the basis of the potential conflicts. The performance of an organization can be adversely affected when the parties involved are not able to work together because of the conflicts. The knowledge on the possible cause of conflicts, the potential consequences, and techniques to address such occurrences would be of importance to business managers. This paper provides a discussion and analysis of issues surrounding the conflicts in the workplace through the literature research and case studies.

Literature Review

Conflicts/disagreements/misunderstandings are common in workplaces; hence, it is important for business managers to initiate ways to solve them whenever they arise. Stakeholders, particularly the employees come from diverse background and have different ways of viewing things, a situation that makes it easy for them to differ to the extent of affecting their working relationship (Lim & Yazdanifard, 2012). The primary causes of disagreements in an organization include poor communication, ineffective sharing of resources, conflicting goals and objectives, interconnected activities, and ambiguities in the organizational structure and design. The conflicting parties are less likely to work coherently and hence the expected synergy through teamwork is not realized.

According to Rudani (2013), conflict is inherently neither positive nor negative because it has the potential of improving or affecting the performance of an organization adversely. Therefore, conflicts can be functional or dysfunctional depending on the how the concerned parties perceive and manage the situation. Business managers or the parties involved should perceive conflicts as an opportunity to improve the relationship and performance. In cases where conflicts arise as a result of decisions made, there is the need to review the decisions. The conflicts give the opportunity to think again and have a look at rules, procedures, and methods adopted. As a result, it becomes easy to save time, money, and efforts on decisions that are not acceptable by the team members. Secondly, conflict gives an opportunity for the individuals to seek clarification on matters leading to the misunderstanding or misinterpretation. In fact, clarification makes issues be precise; hence, contributing to overall performance (Lim & Yazdanifard, 2012). Thirdly, as a result of the efforts to resolve conflict, people are allowed to bring on board diverse ideas and opinions. In this approach, the best point of view gets the opportunity to be implemented, therefore, it brings more creativity and innovation, which are fundamental ingredients for making a company more competitive. Other functionalities include improved relations, attention to critical activities, and solving long term problems.

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On the other hand, conflicts can become counterproductive when not resolved effectively. As a result, conflicts may lead to wastage of time, money, and efforts. In the situation where conflicts concern fundamental objectives and priorities of the company, the firm’s growth and development targets are not realized. In some incidences, when a conflict is not resolved in time, it can escalate to the extent of leading to high turnover. Therefore, the organization concerned may lose quality and experienced employees; hence, spending a lot in recruiting new ones to fill the gaps (Rudani, 2013). In other cases, conflicts can lead to legal proceedings against the organization, which attracts legal liabilities and compromised publicity.

Therefore, the implications of conflicts in an organization can be influenced by the actions or steps taken by the management or the parties involved. As a result, scholars have over the years strived to come up with methods/techniques to handle the occurrences. Upon detecting a misunderstanding or miscommunication, the leadership concerned must be able to handle or initiate a process to minimize the conflict. The most popular initiatives, which are adopted by the leaders, include negotiation, arbitration, smoothing, and forcing.


Arbitration involves the engagement of a third party (arbitrator) who is neutral in the matter being addressed. The arbitrator listens to both sides and dictates on the solution. The method is appropriate when the negotiations have failed and when it is not appropriate to use other methods such as the legal proceedings or the aspect of forcing. At the work place, arbitrations can be done in a formal way and the parties must agree to be bound by the decisions reached. The importance of the agreement is to ensure that in the case of a win-loss outcome, the losing party does not reject the decision. Since the arbitrator has the authority to dictate a decision, the approach can be appropriate when an urgent solution is required (Lim & Yazdanifard, 2012). To reinforce the outcome of the arbitration, it is recommended that an arbitrator with higher authority in the organization should be involved. However, the dictated solution may not be acceptable and can lead into the re-emerging of the misunderstanding between the parties. Besides, the process of arbitration does not enhance trust and a sense of understanding among individuals.

According to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2008), a due process should be followed to boost the opportunity of realizing the objectives of mediation involving an arbitrator. The first step is to meet the involved parties in separate meetings. The aim of the engagement is to create a working relationship and understand the expectations of each of the parties from the process of arbitration. In the second phase, the players hold joint meetings. In this meeting, the arbitrator brings the participants together and allows them to provide their side of the story. The mediator listens to the issues and takes note of the main issues, including the areas of agreements and disagreements. Upon exploring the issues, the parties are encouraged to communicate and look for possible constructive solutions. The arbitrator captures the factors from both sides and since a compromise may not be realized, he/she is expected to come up with an enforceable decision.


Negotiation is the most common method used in settling differences at workplaces. It involves back-and-face communication as the parties try to find a solution to their differences. The individuals involved simply engage directly with each other or seek the assistance of a third party. The collective decision arrived at is a compromise and the parties have the obligation to implement the resolution (Sudhakar, 2015). The process of negotiation can be applied in situations where the participants are problem-solving oriented and are aware that the misunderstanding has to be addressed to avoid the adverse implications. Negotiation is preferred because it assists the parties in strengthening their relationships. The technique brings faster results and lowers the stress because of the mutual understanding. A permanent solution can be reached because of the win-win situations created.


Smoothing as an approach involves the concentration on areas of agreement to reduce or ease the level of misunderstanding. The team leader or manager has the fundamental role to play in analyzing the situation and simplifying the issues and explaining to the involved parties. The manager should have a better insight concerning the matters in disagreement and be in a position to explain the realities to the parties. The leader does not impose authority when using this approach, but seeks to pass relevant information to enhance a sense of understanding (Lim & Yazdanifard, 2012). The method can easily reduce or eliminate misunderstanding, bring harmony, and create goodwill. Additionally, after reducing tension and bringing a sense of unity, the leader can take the time to find a permanent solution. However, the method is not appropriate where imposition of authority is required, particularly when the conflicting parties are not willing to find a solution.


In this technique, the involved parties are forced to reduce or end their differences and maintain harmony. A manager using the technique compels the parties to follow his/her directives and point of view. In fact, the opponents are not allowed to follow their points of view. In another perspective, the leader may side with one of the conflicting parties leading into a win-lose situation. According to Lim and Yazdanifard (2012), the leader uses aggressive styles such as authority, threats, and intimidation to force the parties to agree with his/her point of view. In this case, the power and authority vested by the virtue of the position and office held, will a central role. The effectiveness of the style depends on the effectiveness of the choice made and whether it is the most appropriate.

The technique may be appropriately applied in certain circumstances. In fact, the most appropriate situation to implement this method is when other approaches such as negotiation, smoothing, and arbitration among others have failed. The method is also applied as a last resort in providing a long lasting conflict. Besides, forcing is appropriate in those situations likely to be life-threatening or when there is a need to stop aggression. The advantage of this approach is that it is appropriate in providing quick resolutions and mitigates adverse effects on the parties and the organization (Lim & Yazdanifard, 2012). Nevertheless, when the fundamental causes of the conflicts are not addressed, then there is a significant possibility that the situation will reoccur. Additionally, the parties can react against the “forcer” making it a less effective in achieving the intended objective.

Core Arguments, Opinions and Suggestions

From the literature review, there are core arguments, opinions, and suggestions upon which the knowledge about conflict management has been enhanced. The first insight is that conflict arises in the workplace when employees misunderstand each other on personal grounds or on matters concerning the working environment (Rudani, 2013). The misunderstanding has both the positive and negative outcomes.  On the positive side, it is evident that the divergent views leading into conflict can be used in enhancing innovation, creativity, and awareness. On the other hand, the negative outcomes include unfavorable competition, disputes, low morale, and inefficiency leading to low productivity and unfavorable performance.

The other insight from the review is that to successfully solve the conflict in an organization, the managers concerned should have the right attitude and skills to offer leadership. The positive attitude and mechanism the managers put in place are likely to change conflict from a destructive to constructive state. Such a manager would take adequate time in looking for the best resolution method to adopt in the various experiences of conflicts.

The nature of conflicts differs from one case to the next. In fact, some cases require urgent resolution, particularly when there is the potential for injury, death, and negative publicity, which is likely to reduce the competitiveness and popularity of the company. In such a case, the method of forcing through threatening and separating of the conflicting parties is an appropriate method. When the intensity of the conflict is not at critical levels, some methods such as smoothing and negotiations can be applied effectively (Sudhakar, 2015). Nevertheless, the conflicting parties may require a facilitator to assist them in resolving their differences and hence a mediator or an arbitrator is involved. In fact, it is suggested that an appropriate method should be selected and applied in resolving divergent views.

Individual managers are required to have relevant qualities and skills to succeed in resolving conflicts. Effective communication is significant, particularly when explaining facts and trying to make sense to the differing parties. Strong analytical skills would assist in the evaluation of issues leading to the conflict and the identification of possible solutions (Sudhakar, 2015). Lastly, a manager should be able to create and maintain a healthy climate and culture that compel the stakeholders to look for resolutions when disagreements are likely to affect their working environment.

Case Example

The knowledge of conflict management can best be enhanced through a case study representing a real example. In an organization A, an employee goes for a maternity leave, a situation that leads to the recruitment of a new employee to stand in for three months. On arrival of the new staff member, one of the workers advised the newly recruited worker that she should not sit on the desk belonging to the employee on leave. The reason for the opinion was that the desk owner was bothered when other people sat on her desk. The new employee did not take the statement lightly and considered it as a threat or bullying. During the supervision, the temporary employee stated that she had been bullied. The supervisor demanded an apology from the employee to the new staff member. However, the intention of the employee was not to bully the incoming employee, but to inform her about the behavior of the owner of the desk. Being forced to apologize was not taken lightly; she turned antisocial in the attempt to reduce the possibility of offending others. The antisocial behavior undermined teamwork for the next three months.

In the case study, it is evident that the conflict arose as a result of the usage of resources and miscommunication. The recruited temporary employee was not provided with an own desk from which she would undertake her duties; hence, she used the available desk belonging to the employee on leave. The employee was indirectly telling the newcomer to request for her own desk instead of using the one whose owner would feel offended. The case study revealed that the supervisor failed to manage the conflict leading to poor performance of the employees for the three months. Indeed, it should have been made clear through an official communication on the time the new employee would use the desk to avoid potential conflict (Sudhakar, 2015). Additionally, the supervisor ought to have analyzed the facts and offer mediation between the two staff members to bring harmony and integration.


As is evident from the above analysis, the conflicts and differences in the workplace are inevitable. The management and leadership at various levels should be aware of the importance of such incidences to the overall performance of the organization. The selection of the techniques to address the differences should be based on the nature of the conflict and the willingness of the parties to have a harmonious working relationship. In essence, the effective communication and the ability to analyze situation are prerequisite to effective conflict management.

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