How to Confront Conflict

Confronting conflict doesn’t come naturally to most. Some people try to avoid it completely while others deal with it a little too directly. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, we can all benefit from making healthy adjustments to our approach as navigating conflict is imperative for sustaining healthy relationships- both in and outside of the workplace. Confronting conflict takes hard work and humility, but it’s always worth it. These quick tips won’t do the work of conflict for you, but they’ll give you the tools you need to approach conflict with confidence.

Go to the source

When conflict inevitably arises, it’s best to go straight to the source and speak directly with the person involved. This may seem a bit aggressive, but it’s always best to initiate a conversation with the source before engaging anyone else in the situation. When you go to the source first, it alleviates any gray area and offers immediate clarity and understanding. This may seem counter intuitive for many of us as our first action is typically seeking advice from a third party in hopes of gaining a second opinion and different perspective. While this approach isn’t wrong, it can create unnecessary momentum surrounding the conflict before the person directly involved is even aware. Instead of unintentionally amplifying the problem by involving other opinions, speaking directly to the person of conflict diffuses the situation. It gives the other party awareness, a chance to answer questions and speak to the conflict from their perspective. 

Be curious

Once you approach the other person involved, it’s wise to ask questions. Asking questions allows space for open and honest conversation. Questions like “What did you mean when you said that?” or “How did you feel when I did that?” help to initiate a healthy dialogue. Curiosity removes accusation, assumptions and defensiveness. When approaching conflict in this way, you seek to understand the feelings and intentions of another before jumping to assumptions or conclusions.

Agree on next steps

From there, both parties should agree on what happens next. It’s tempting to allow one person to “own” the conflict, but that’s not quite how it works. When you choose to resolve conflict, it’s important to remember that you’re just as involved as the other party. By confronting conflict in the first place, you’re communicating that you want to see resolution as well. This requires both parties to lay it all on the table. Talk through what each individual needs to have peace and move forward. Hash out concrete details, behavior changes and a timeline. Invite other people into the conversation if accountability is needed. Really explore what it looks like to move forward – together.

Move forward together

This step is much easier (and far less stressful) when you’ve handled the initial steps of conflict resolution in a healthy and humble way. You’re ready to move forward together when both parties have fully communicated their feelings and aired their grievances, the right questions have been asked (and answered), there is alignment on what went wrong and agreement on how to move forward. Once you’ve tackled these conversations and apologies have been made, it’s time to move forward and begin implementing any agreed upon changes or practices that will help alleviate future conflict and misunderstandings.

Conflict is not avoidable, but it is rectifiable. While we often think of conflict as damaging, it often breeds conversations that ultimately create better alignment, understanding and trust amongst team members when approached and resolved in a healthy manner. So when conflict arises, don’t fear it. Confront it. You and your team will be better for it.