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Conflict Resolution Strategies for a Thriving Workforce

Conflict Resolution Strategies for a Thriving Workforce

Conflict resolution strategies in the workplace often leave employees to navigate discord on their own. But today, many companies recognize that collaborative conflict resolution in the workplace—where friction is normalized—is a more effective approach and one that’s crucial for organizational well-being, employee satisfaction, and business success.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process of addressing and resolving disagreements. This can be done through a third-party mediator as well as through direct communication where parties interact with each other.

What causes conflict at work? 

To develop effective conflict resolution strategies, it’s important to understand the root causes of workplace conflicts. These may include:

  • Poor communication – inadequate information between team members, such as unclear instructions or lack of feedback
  • Differing opinions – disagreements from contrasting viewpoints on matters like strategies, projects, or goals 
  • Limited conditions – resource constraints, such as insufficient time, budget, or equipment
  • Competitive relationships – rivalry among team members for recognition, promotions, or other opportunities
  • Clashing personalities – incompatible personality traits or working styles

5 helpful conflict resolution strategies

Focusing on team dynamics and building collective resilience are key aspects of holistic conflict resolution strategies. “More companies are acknowledging that friction is an inherent, expected aspect of work and are normalizing workplace conflict by teaching their leaders how to share feedback, identify concerns, and engage in collaborative brainstorming toward a solution,” said Wasserman. Here are a few ways to take a more collaborative approach to conflict management in the workplace: 

#1 Build psychological safety

Employees must feel comfortable raising concerns and discussing seemingly minor issues before they snowball. Encourage open communication and create platforms where team members can express their opinions and concerns without fear of judgment. A culture of psychological safety helps leaders identify and address pain points promptly, potentially decreasing mental health impacts and broader health care costs. 

#2 Prioritize collective well-being

Acknowledge our interconnectedness as people and build a culture where collective well-being is a priority. Proactive conflict resolution techniques may include:

“Proactively cultivating positive team dynamics doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict,” said Wasserman. “Rather, strong collegial relationships will set up workers to recover from conflict faster because they have rapport and empathy with each other.” 

#3 Take relational pauses

A relational pause is a deliberate break in executing work tasks to reflect on individual perspectives. This is especially helpful when you notice distress arise. Unlike traditional breaks, relational pauses build authentic connections rather than simply offering a respite from tasks. 

“Relational pauses aren’t venting,” said Wasserman. “They’re part of a structured conflict resolution strategy to shift out of the transactional nature of work and into the human experience. Relational pauses help people feel seen and heard and they help teams orient to ways of working that are supportive of each other’s needs.”

Here are a few ways to include relational pauses in your conflict management strategies:

  • Normalize the practice of relational pauses in meetings to check in on how team members are doing.
  • Use relational pauses when emotions escalate, allowing team members to express themselves without an intention to solve the problem. If an issue arises that requires problem-solving, note it, and come back to it in a different discussion that’s focused on finding solutions.
  • Develop rituals around losses within the organization (e.g., losing a big client or bid), acknowledging the impact on employees and providing opportunities for them to express their feelings.

#4 “Struggle well” together

Research shows teams are closer when they perceive setbacks as belonging to the entire group. Shared experiences can distribute the strain among team members, easing isolation and contributing to a healthier group dynamic. “By shifting the focus from individual struggles to a joint effort where teams ‘struggle well’ together, adversity is framed as a collective challenge,” said Wasserman. Through sharing and reflecting on team behavior, groups build connections that are crucial to healthy conflict resolution in the workplace.

#5 Address work-related distress 

A Lyra Health survey found that at the end of 2022, 86% of workers had experienced at least one mental health challenge over the past year and 39% cited work-related stress and burnout among their top mental health issues. Offering comprehensive, culturally responsive mental health services supports emotional well-being and effective conflict resolution in the workplace. Therapists and mental health coaches, along with specialized training programs, can provide tools and support for greater self-awareness and empathy. 

“A comprehensive mental health solution will also offer organizational tools to help mitigate conflict,” said Wasserman. “For example, Lyra’s Organizational Health Evaluation helps companies identify where work is contributing to mental health distress so that leaders have the data to know what challenges are arising and where in their organization to support healthy ways of working.” 

When to get a mediator 

Recognizing when to bring in a mediator is an important part of any conflict management strategy. Signs that a mediator is needed include:

  • Internal conflict resolution strategies aren’t working, leading to division, cliques, and negative morale 
  • The severity and/or complexity of the conflict has escalated
  • There is low psychological safety and/or low levels of trust between individuals 

Conflict resolution strategies techniques for leaders

Leaders serve a central role in workplace conflict resolution by providing guidance, encouraging open communication, and promoting a positive and collaborative environment. Here are some ways leaders can promote healthy conflict resolution in the workplace: 

#1 Destigmatize emotions

Leaders can help dispel the myth that emotions have no place in the workplace by recognizing that emotional experiences significantly impact productivity and well-being and encouraging employees to talk about their feelings. 

#2 Encourage open communication

Conflict resolution strategies like relational pauses help foster employee well-being, positive team dynamics, and overall organizational effectiveness.

#3 Provide cultural competency training

Promoting diverse viewpoints and addressing biases are crucial elements of conflict resolution in the workplace. Implementing company-wide diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) training cultivates empathy and empowers employees to navigate these challenges and foster a positive workplace.

#4 Provide mental health training

Participate in mental health training like Lyra’s Notice and Respond program to learn how to recognize mental health concerns and point employees to helpful resources.

#5 Hold regular team meetings and one-on-ones

Have regular team meetings to openly discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions. This provides an opportunity to support employee needs and helps the team work together toward achieving goals. 

“One-on-one meetings to check in on individual well-being and inquire about specific ways to offer support are important pieces of conflict resolution. By asking questions like, ‘What is one way I can better support you?’ leaders demonstrate a commitment to healthy conflict resolution strategies in the workplace,” said Wasserman.

Explore new ways to manage conflict in the workplace

Effective conflict resolution strategies are integral to a healthy workplace. By prioritizing open communication and collaborative problem-solving, organizations can build resilient teams and boost employee satisfaction.

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About the reviewer
Keren Wasserman

Keren is the organizational development program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Keren has a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago and has worked as a management consultant focused on large-scale change management implementations. She lives in Seattle where she spends her free time hiking, soaking up the PNW's most glorious mountain views.

About the author
Sara Schapmann

Sara is a senior content writer for Lyra Health. She has over a decade of experience writing behavioral health and well-being content and holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Illinois.

Clinically reviewed by
Keren Wasserman
Organizational Development Program Manager
6 of February 2024 - 5 min read
Mental health at work
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