Conflict resolution refers to the process of bringing a conflict to an end in a fair, equitable, or mutually agreeable way. It’s central in a range of jobs, including social work, counselling, and diplomacy.
There are a range of frameworks, skills, and strategies that can be used to resolve conflict resolution, which I’ll explain below.
In order to demonstrate your conflict resolution skills, it’s useful to use the STAR framework. This framework is especially useful if you’re looking for ways to demonstrate your conflict resolution skills in a job interview. I’ve provided this framework at the end of this piece.
Conflict Resolution Examples
Strategies for Resolving Conflicts
Let’s start with come common strategies, before looking at some specific skills for you to develop:
1. Active Listening
In this approach, you focus on listening to the other person’s thoughts and feelings. You reflect these sentiments back to ensure understanding. This shows your respect for them and their viewpoint, and it encourages them to do the same for you.
This is a classic use of the process to find a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties put forward their preferred outcomes, and they work together to find a middle ground that satisfies both. When agreements are built together, they are more likely to be respected.
When two parties fail to find a solution on their own, a neutral third party called a mediator might help. Their role is to facilitate open and efficient communication, helping each person gain a fresh perspective on the dispute.
4. Problem Solving
Here, you aim to address an issue head on. You first identify the problem, then brainstorm solutions, and finally choose the best one. It’s an analytical approach where the stress lies not on fighting, but on working together to reach a beneficial result.
5. Strength-Based Approach
In this strategy, you emphasize the positive qualities and potential of the people involved. This helps them to work from a position of strength, not weakness, and makes the resolution process a more wholesome experience.
6. Interest-Based Relational Approach
This approach places relationships first, focusing on protecting them while still solving the dispute. When both the parties focus on each other’s needs rather than winning the argument, the conflict’s detrimental effects on their relationship can be minimized.
7. Team Building
This is an indirect conflict resolution approach that aims to cultivate strong bonds between team members. This can reduce the likelihood of conflicts appearing, as team members become more understanding and patient with each other due to their emotional connection. However, this method requires consistent effort and time.
This technique involves a neutral person handling the discussion process between people in a dispute. They ensure everyone has a chance to air their grievances, keeps the conversation respectful and inclusive, and guides the group towards a consensus.
Similar to mediation, arbitration involves a third-party arbitrator. The main difference, however, is the arbitrator makes a decision after hearing all sides of the argument. This decision is usually binding and is often used in legal settings or labor disputes.
Though this may not seem like a resolution, sometimes avoiding a conflict is a strategic move. This passive approach is best suited when the issue at hand is trivial, or more harm than good would come from addressing it.
This strategy involves minimizing the importance of the conflict in order to preserve relationships and team unity. By downplaying the disagreement and emphasizing common interests, the intensity of the conflict can be reduced.
12. Collaborative Solution
This strategy requires both parties to work together closely to devise a solution. It is the more creative approach as it doesn’t involve just picking an existing option, but instead, the two parties build an entirely new one together.
This is a passive approach where one party agrees to concede to the other. That person yields to the others’ demands for the sake of keeping peace. This approach is mainly used when one party values the relationship more than winning the argument.
This strategy involves a head-on approach to the conflict, in which one party attempts to win over the other through force. It’s a win-lose scenario and is mainly utilized when one party feels they have a non-negotiable position.
In this approach, each party agrees to give up something in order to reach a resolution. While this may not lead to a completely satisfying outcome for either side, it does provide a quick solution that can help maintain the overall stability of the relationship or organization.
Conflict Resolution Skills
The above strategies require people with a range of valuable soft skills for resolving conflicts, including the following 15:
16. Respecting Diversity: Conflicts often arise from differences in backgrounds, cultures, or perspectives. Respecting diversity and viewing it as a strength rather than an obstacle can promote mutual understanding and resolution.
17. Communication Skills: As the bedrock of conflict resolution, effective communication involves expressing yourself clearly and listening actively. It also involves interpreting body language and non-verbal cues, which are often conduits of emotional states.
18. Empathy: This skill allows you to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Understanding their feelings and point of view can foster a sympathetic approach to conflict resolution.
19. Patience: Conflict resolution is often a time-consuming process. It requires patience to listen to others and understand their viewpoints and even more to negotiate a satisfactory agreement.
20. Emotional Intelligence: This entails the ability to manage your emotions and understand those of others. Emotional intelligence can help prevent emotional responses from determining the outcome of conflicts.
21. Decision-Making Abilities: At times, conflict resolution implies making hard choices. Robust decision-making skills help in reaching solutions more efficiently, ensuring all parties’ needs are duly considered.
22. Flexibility: This involves being open to new ideas or ways of thinking. It enables you to adjust your perspective or compromise on certain issues to reach a resolution.
23. Problem-Solving Abilities: This encompasses generating solutions, assessing their potential impact, and implementing the most effective one. It ensures the resolution of the conflict and prevents future similar conflicts from arising.
24. Assertiveness: This skill represents your ability to speak up for your rights while respecting the rights of others. Assertiveness doesn’t mean aggressiveness; rather, it’s about expressing your needs clearly and directly.
25. Active Listening: By really hearing what the other party is saying, you can better understand their perspective. You aren’t merely listening to respond, but to gain a deeper understanding.
27. Creativity: Effective conflict resolution can sometimes require thinking outside the box to find a solution that satisfies all parties involved. This creativity might involve developing unconventional strategies or solutions.
28. Self-Control: Being able to maintain your cool under stress is essential in conflict resolution. The ability to handle your emotions and keep them in check can prevent unnecessary escalation of conflicts.
29. Facilitation Skills: These skills can help guide the conversation toward constructive outcomes. They include ensuring everyone’s views are heard, mediating disputes, and leading the group to a consensus.
30. Adaptability: Conflict can often be volatile and unpredictable. Being able to adapt to new facts, different viewpoints, or shifts in the power dynamic is essential to successfully navigate conflict and find resolution.
Common Frameworks for Conflict Resolution
Common frameworks include:
1. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
TKI is a tool that measures a person’s behavior in conflict situations. It categorizes an individual’s responses into five different styles: Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating, and Compromising (Schaubhut, 2007; Brown, 2012). The aim of the TKI model is to help individuals understand how their behavior in conflict situations affects others and to find more effective conflict resolution strategies (Riasi & Asadzadeh, 2015).
2. Fisher and Ury’s Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Model
This model, introduced in the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In suggests that conflicts should not focus on individuals, but rather on the issue at hand. It is based on methods of negotiation that focus on fairness, seeking mutual benefit, and maintaining relationships (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 2011). The steps in this approach include separating the people from the problem, focusing on interests not positions, inventing options for mutual gain, and insisting on objective criteria.
3. Conflict Resolution Framework by the Harvard Negotiation Project
Also developed by Fisher and Ury, this framework extends upon the IBR model by incorporating elements such as “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA) and “zone of possible agreement” (ZOPA). It encourages parties to establish their BATNA before negotiations begin, providing a fallback plan and establishing a guideline for acceptable agreements. For more on this project, visit its website.
4. Circle Process
This is a powerful conflict resolution model predominantly used in Restorative Justice proceedings (Bohmert, Duwe & Hipple, 2018). It involves creating safe spaces where all participants can share their perspectives and feelings about a conflict, facilitating a communal understanding. It intensely targets communication, respect, and mutual understanding.
5. Bush and Folger’s Transformative Mediation
In this model, empowerment and recognition are central to resolving conflicts (Folger & Bush, 2014). It supports parties in conflict to change their views of themselves and others, transforming the very nature of their relationship. The mediator works to foster constructive communication and mutual recognition, leading not just to settlement but also personal growth and social transformation.
These frameworks offer various approaches, each with their own strengths depending on the specific nature and context of the conflict.
How to Answer “Describe your Conflict Resolution Skills” in an Interview
The STAR framework is a method for answering interview questions in a structured, coherent manner. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
1. Situation: Begin by describing a specific conflict situation that you dealt with at your previous job. Providers the details necessary for the interviewer to understand the context, such as the type of conflict, the people involved, and the severity or potential impacts of the conflict without breaking any confidentiality rules.
Situation Example: Let’s say I was working as a project manager on a major software development project. Two of my team members had a disagreement on the approach to a complex coding issue. The conflict had begun to delay our progress and other team members were starting to take sides, creating a divide within the team.
2. Task: Clear explanation of your role or responsibility in the conflict is required in this step. Mention whether you were directly involved in the conflict or you intervened as a third party.
Task Example: My role was not only to manage the project timeline, but also to ensure we maintained a collaborative and productive work environment. Therefore, it was my responsibility to resolve the conflict between the two team members in a way that would not only help the project to move forward but also heal the team dynamics.
3. Action: Here, elaborate on the specific steps you took to resolve the conflict. Discuss your implementation of conflict resolution skills, any methodologies or strategies used, and how you approached the issue to find a resolution. Make sure to emphasize actions that typify a conflict-resolving personality, like patience, active listening, and open communication.
Action Example: I organized a meeting with the two concerned team members. I let each of them articulate their viewpoint on the coding issue, ensuring they felt heard, while reiterating the importance of respectful communication. Then, with their input, we developed a list of pros and cons for each approach. I facilitated the discussion focusing on the shared goal of the team, which was to create an effective and reliable software solution.
4. Result: At the close, express what the outcome of your actions was. It’s important to highlight how your intervention led to a beneficial solution for individuals and the organization as a whole. Describe any positive changes in behavior or performance following the conflict resolution, or any feedback that you received from your supervisors or colleagues about your handling of the situation.
Result Example: As a result of the meeting, we agreed to combine elements from both approaches, which, upon review, actually enhanced the functionality of the program. This solution not only fixed the immediate issue, but the two team members also reported feeling more united. Their mutual respect was evident in subsequent collaborations. We successfully completed the project on time, and our supervisor complimented me on handling such an intense situation with acumen.
Remember, the STAR framework is all about painting a clear, concise, and coherent picture of your conflict resolution skills by drawing on specific past experiences.
Conflict resolution is required for a range of jobs, from customer support to leadership roles within large organizations. By developing you soft skills and building-up experiences with resolving difficult situations, you can enter a job interview ready to answer any question about how to resolve conflicts. Practice your STAR method story before your interview, and best of luck!
Bohmert, M. N., Duwe, G., & Hipple, N. K. (2018). Evaluating restorative justice circles of support and accountability: Can social support overcome structural barriers?. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 62(3), 739-758. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X16652627
Brown, J. G. (2012). Empowering students to create and claim value through the Thomas–Kilmann conflict mode instrument. Negotiation Journal, 28(1), 79-91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1571-9979.2011.00327.x
Fisher, R., Ury, W. L., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York: Penguin.
Folger, J., & Bush, R. A. B. (2014). Transformative mediation. International Journal of Conflict Engagement and Resolution, 2(1), 20-34.
Riasi, A., & Asadzadeh, N. (2015). The relationship between principals’ reward power and their conflict management styles based on Thomas–Kilmann conflict mode instrument. Management Science Letters, 5(6), 611-618.
Schaubhut, N. A. (2007). Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument. CPP Research Department.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]