Working it Out: Common Techniques for Conflict Resolution

By Mark Grzeskowiak
For MedHunters

conflict resolution

The conscious decision to settle a dispute is known by various names, including conflict resolution, conflict management, or conflict regulation. It's a necessary skill in today's workplace, and individual approaches vary and are sometimes multifaceted.

Once the proverbial dogs of war have been unleashed, hostilities tend to follow a set pattern. Things typically come to a head, and conversations between the parties involved become increasingly tense and angry

Once the proverbial dogs of war have been unleashed, hostilities tend to follow a set pattern. Things typically come to a head, and conversations between the parties involved become increasingly tense and angry

"War Zones"

Once the proverbial dogs of war have been unleashed, hostilities tend to follow a set pattern. Things typically come to a head, and conversations between the parties involved become increasingly tense and angry

The most common form of conflict at work results from a feeling that expectations haven't been met (i.e., "somebody" isn't doing his or her job and "somebody else" has had to pick up the slack). Conflict can also result from overwork or burnout, incompatible work styles, or a coworker's bad behavior.

As a preventive measure, some workplaces institute activities such as games and sports activities to help people relieve stress and learn teambuilding skills. One of the more unusual activities that come to mind combines prevention and treatment: coworkers at the New York Stock Exchange have arranged charity boxing matches as a means of settling disputes originating on the trading floor.

But, once the proverbial dogs of war have been unleashed, hostilities tend to follow a set pattern. Things typically come to a head, and conversations between the parties involved become increasingly tense and angry. Accusations fly back and forth, and the coworkers likely can't stand the sight of each other. In a worst case scenario, the dispute looks to be headed to blows.

At this point, the coworkers might see the light of day and try to find a way out of their entrenched positions. Or, more likely, their supervisor(s) will have decided to intervene, and the process of conflict resolution will begin.

Treatment

Some of the more common techniques employed to resolve conflict in workplace include:

  • Dialogue: Getting the two parties to talk through the underlying issues of a dispute is, in theory, the easiest method of conflict resolution. In practice, however, it's probably the most difficult, if only because it involves looking at things from the other person's point of view.
  • Mediation/Arbitration: Bringing in a third party to mediate the dispute is also a common form of conflict resolution. The third party will provide an objective assessment of the dispute, and then either find a solution acceptable to both sides, or decide in one or the other's favor.
  • Narratives: Asking both sides to put the details of a conflict on paper, in the form of a narrative, can help. This strategy allows each side to have their say (in writing), followed by a more detached, analytical examination of the issue, the "plot," and the players, before possible solutions are suggested.

Above all else, conflict resolution requires that both parties be willing to search for a mutually acceptable solution. This article gives brief details about—and possible solutions to—workplace conflict, but it is important to remember that conflict resolution should be taken seriously. If you need help in resolving conflict among your staff, the best place to start is your human resources department. If you don't have this resource available, you can find information at your local library, seek information from a local university that offers conflict resolution courses, reach out to a professional mediator, and turn to trusted sites on the Internet.

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This article is provided for informational purposes only. The ACR is not responsible for any career decisions made by those consulting this article.

© 2010 American College of Rheumatology