Resolving Conflicts in the Workplace

Jim Emerson, Conflict Prevention & Resolution Consultant/Trainer  –  For Bob Lapidus, CSP, CSMS

Resolving conflicts in the workplace is important for many reasons, and one of the primary reasons is to maintain a safe and secure work environment.  People in conflict are most likely upset emotionally and distracted from their job, which makes them more vulnerable to having an accident.  Most of us have been in this situation before and know how anger, frustration and conflict affect our ability to concentrate on anything other than our strong feelings about the conflict.

Many of us feel like resolving a conflict is a practical impossibility most of the time.  Even if it is possible, it feels so complicated that resolution is probably beyond our capabilities.

Successfully working through a conflict can be similar in principle to back packing safely through woods containing dangerous animals.  Knowing and understanding the territory is the key.  Some basic characteristics of the territory of conflict and several solutions for responding in a positive manner are:

  1. Fight or flight makes conflict worse.  Avoid escalating a situation or running from it.
  2. The initial act of anger is the tip of the iceberg.  It is the unsaid underlying causes that drive a person’s anger.  Identify these causes by asking questions to communicate your interest, a major step towards resolution.
  3. Angry people find it difficult or impossible to resolve a conflict.  As hard as it may be, make the decision not to become angry and instead focus on resolving the conflict.
  4. Increased tension is a valid sign of an approaching conflict.  Reduce the tension to help resolve the conflict.
  5. Lack of, incomplete or incorrect communication tends to create conflict.  Listen and clarify information to prevent misunderstandings.


Here are some things you can do when conflict starts to begin:

  • Avoid becoming angry,
  • Do not use the word you in discussion, and
  • Seek to lower tensions by gaining knowledge about the other person’s thoughts and feelings.


Use the following four-step active listening process (AVECS) to lower tensions and help resolve conflict: 

Step 1:     Acknowledge the other persons’ anger and frustration.  Ask them what is wrong and see if you can determine the reasons behind their anger.  If necessary, briefly write down their key thoughts.

Step 2:    Validate & Empathize (not necessarily agree) with their feelings.  Indicate to them that you understand how they could feel the way they do.

Step 3:    Clarify what they have said by asking questions about what they have said, what their interests are, how they feel about what is happening, and providing feedback about what you have heard.

Step 4:    Summarize by paraphrasing all that you believe you have heard, making sure you are open for any corrections they make.  Use your written notes (Step 1) to help this summary process.

These steps may be completed in a few minutes, a couple of hours, or planned encounters over time.  Having completed the steps, if possible, continue to determine what actions can be taken by both of you to resolve the conflict.   Taking actions that meet both of your best interests as much as possible is the goal.

Try using the above tools.  With a little practice, you can improve your conflict resolution skills.


For More Information:

Go to www.safetycenter.org for more information about Safety Center’s Safety Management Specialist Certificate.

After completing this nine-day program, graduates may take the exam to achieve the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation. Recipients of the CSMS receive a beautiful plaque and become part of an elite group of safety specialists who have achieved this recognition.  Once this certification is attained, successful candidates keep it for the rest of their lives without any additional requirements or fees.

Jim Emerson Contact Information
Jim Emerson, Conflict Prevention & Resolution Consultant/Trainer
(530) 209-1500