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6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in a Professional Relationship

Rock, paper, scissors“All of us either have or will experience conflict of some kind in a professional relationship. How we navigate this conflict is key to preserving productive working relationships.”
Mary Anne Berzins, assistant vice president for human resources, University of Utah (from her CUPA-HR Annual Conference 2013 session, “Effective Conflict Engagement Starts With Me: A Self-Awareness Strategy to Resolve Conflict in Professional Relationships”)

There’s no getting around the fact that conflict is part of life, and work life is no exception. Conflict and upset in the workplace, particularly the higher ed workplace, can be driven by many things: the many diverse perspectives on campus (and often different cultural and societal norms and expectations), the collaborative nature of higher ed, unmet expectations, lack of communication, resentment and regret … the list goes on.

Oftentimes when individuals are engaged in conflict in the workplace, they go one of three routes: they choose to ignore the conflict, they try to work around the other person or persons involved, or they continue on in the conflict. But, as Berzins pointed out in her session, there are other, more effective ways to address conflict and upset in the workplace. By following the six steps outlined below, you’ll likely be able to minimize any damage done and resolve your conflict quickly and amicably:

  1. Acknowledge and own the upset before communicating with the other party or parties.
  2. Be clear about the reason for the conflict/upset.
  3. Be clear about what happened (know and present the facts).
  4. Be accountable for what you did (or did not) do to contribute to the conflict/upset.
  5. Identify appropriate actions you can take to resolve the conflict.
  6. Communicate and have an accountable conversation with the other party or parties involved.

What strategies have you used to resolve conflict in professional relationships? In your experience, what has worked and what hasn’t? Tell us in the comments below.

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