5 Tips for Managing Conflict


Whether this is your first time hearing these tips or this is a refresher for you, conflict management is one of the trickiest areas for people to navigate successfully. Yet, conflict is inevitable and can take a toll on your effectiveness and productivity (not to mention your stress level) if not resolved.

I recently attended an excellent class on the subject, facilitated by Renatha Saunders, and here are my top 5 takeaways.

  1. Use “I” Messages. Try this formula: “I feel [insert your feeling] when you [state the other person’s behavior] because I value [insert your value that conflicted with the other person’s behavior. Then state the desired behavior.

For example: “I feel concerned when you don’t submit your portion of the assigned task on time because I value everyone contributing equally to the assignment. Next time, could you make sure to submit on time?”

  1. Observe the Rule of 3. Sometimes despite your best efforts, the other person just isn’t in a place where they are ready to reasonably work it out with you. Using “I” messages, try 3 times to communicate with the other person to bring the conflict to closure.

At the end of the first two “I” messages, state the desired behavior. At the end of the third and final attempt, state the next steps or consequences. Then move on.

  1. Avoid the Common Hot Buttons. Certain language is tempting to use but seems to inevitably worsen a conflict. Make sure you try and avoid the following:

– Telling the other person to “calm down.”

– Using the word “should,” as in, “You should have come talked to me first.”

– Generalizations like lazy, incompetent, or unproductive. Instead, stick to the facts and focus on specific behaviors.

– Generalizations like “always” or “never,” as in, “You always show up for meetings late.”

– What the person already knows, as in, “You violated the code of conduct, which states…”

– Bringing up the past. Address only the current issue and don’t pile on previous indiscretions.

  1. Demonstrate Empathy. Remember that we all make mistakes and there are most likely underlying issues causing the undesired behavior. To get to the underlying issue, try saying, “What bothers you most about this situation?”

Also, remember that usually each side of a conflict has a piece of the truth and you will most likely still need to work with the individual even after the end of the conversation. If you enter the conflict with the mentality that you must “win,” that means the other person must lose. That will only result in damaging the relationship so try to allow the other person to exit the conflict with their pride intact.

  1. Change Your Perspective. Each of us perceives the world differently through a lens that is clouded by life experiences, emotions, and our personal values. When conflict arises, ask yourself, “What am I not seeing?” Take into consideration that the other person could have an entirely different perception of a situation framed by their thoughts, feelings, moods, and basic human needs that may not be met.

What are your tips for managing conflict?

Christine McMahon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Amy DeWolf

Great post, Christine! I like tip #4 about demonstrating empathy. It’s definitely important to not walk into a situation needing to “win.” Because really, you don’t want anyone losing in your company/agency! A good piece of advice I’ve been given about dealing with conflict is not needing to always have a comeback. Sometimes you just need to listen, take a deep breath and not say anything. That way you don’t say something you’ll regret 🙂

Merlin Halverson

The best advice on this subject I have received came from my wife. Stop focussing on what people think. What you need to know is how they feel because that is in fact what you have to deal with.