How to Resolve Conflict


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On occasion, when organizations partner together to combine resources and work toward a common goal, conflicts arise and disagreements develop. To build a mutually beneficial relationship and resolve conflict effectively, keep in mind these principles:


  • Think "we," rather than "I versus you.
  • Keep in mind the long term relationship.
  • Good conflict resolution will improve the relationship.
  • Good conflict resolution benefits both parties.
  • Conflict resolution and relationship building go hand in hand.
  • Make every effort to resolve conflict informally and in a timely manner.


People tend to make common mistakes when attempting to resolve conflicts.  Some ineffective ways of dealing with problems include:


  • Avoiding the problems
  • Changing the subject
  • Reacting emotionally or personally
  • Blaming others
  • Making excuses
  • Delegating the situation to someone else



General Types of Conflict

Ways to Resolve

Communication - Lack of information, misunderstandings, assumptions, different languages

  • Keep partner informed
  • Define terms
  • Clarify assumptions
  • Check interpretation of information

Structural – Poor processes, time constraints, inadequate organizational structures/systems

  • Involve partner in designing processes and supportive structures
  • Involve partner in timelines and setting deadlines


Relationship–Unrealistic expectations, personal conflicts, stereotypes, fear, misuse of power

  • Show concern for other’s point of view
  • Remain non-defensive and non-judgmental
  • Keep emotions in check
  • Respond non-defensively
  • Seek a “level playing field” that feels fair to both parties
  • Do not intimidate or retaliate

Interests – Differences in needs, interests, goals, or preferences

  • Look for common interests—what’s best for people with arthritis
  • Be ready to accommodate and compromise
  • Back off your position and look at alternatives that will meet the needs of both parties

Values – Opposing beliefs/values, cultural differences of groups, differences in organizations’ missions

  • Look for common goals and values
  • Acknowledge value differences
  • Accept and show respect for differences



If conflict arises within a partnership, consider applying the following steps:

Step 1: Create an Effective Atmosphere
Creating an effective atmosphere to address conflicts is a very important step in the conflict resolution process. Important aspects to consider include:


  • Personal Preparation: Do all you can to approach issues honestly and openly. Be aware of your own feelings, beliefs, biases, “hot button,” concerns and expectations related to the conflict. Ask yourself: “Which needs of mine are threatened by this conflict? What do I want to happen as a result of this process?”
  • Timing: Choose a time when no one feels pressured and all are ready to resolve the conflict.
  • Location: Select a private, neutral place to meet where all parties feel comfortable.
  • Opening statements: Start out on a good note to promote a collaborative attitude.
    • Speak in a friendly, welcoming and open manner that lets others know you are willing to approach conflict with a team-like attitude.
    • Shift from stating a position (“I want or do not want”) to framing the conflict as an issue or interest  (“I would like to discuss”)
    • Depersonalize the conflict (e.g. say “This situation is a difficult one” instead of something like, “ You have caused a lot of problems.”)


  • Set ground rules: Identify how parties wish to treat one another during the discussion about conflict. These might include:

    • We agree to come together voluntarily and work cooperatively together.
    • One person speaks at a time without interruption.
    • We will use active listening to try to understand the other party’s point of view.
    • What is shared here is confidential unless there is an explicit agreement regarding who needs further information.
    • We will focus on the issues and not attack the people with whom we disagree.
    • We will not accuse, call names, find fault, blame, or yell.

Step 2: Clarify Perceptions
Clarify individual perceptions involved in the conflict as well as your own misperceptions of the issues and of those involved. 


  • Use skillful listening to find out what the key issues are without making accusations.
  • Seek first to understand why the other party feels the way they do.
  • Ask clarifying questions to get to the heart of the matter and to determine what are the real areas of difference.
  • Break complex or abstract issues into more tangible or simpler parts.
  • Restate what you have heard and ensure that you are both defining the issues to be resolved in the same way.
  • Consider the consequences of leaving the situation unresolved.
  • Develop criteria for mutual success. 

Step 3: Identify Individual and Shared Needs
Work towards understanding how you can meet the other party’s needs as well as your own and find where you have common needs.


  • Recognize that the parties involved need each other to be most effective.
  • Let each party describe their point of view without interruption. Ask clarifying questions as needed to ensure your understanding of what the other party wants and needs from the situation.
  • Each party, in turn restates or describes the other’s position to the listener’s satisfaction.
  • Validate and affirm areas of agreement.
  • Try to view the issue from other points of view besides the two conflicting positions.
  • Determine common areas of interest and shared needs such as how you can work together to help people with arthritis.
  • Do not dwell on negative past conflicts. Consider what you can learn from the past and how to avoid making the same mistakes.

Step 4: Brainstorm Options
Set aside disagreements and generate a variety of possible options.


  • Start with an open mind and try to be aware of preconceived answers.
  • Allow each party to offer options.
  • Try to think of options where everyone gains something.
  • Try to generate creative solutions.
  • Consider all ideas, no matter how silly they may seem.
  • Write down all of the suggestions.
  • Make sure that you have options to address all of your main issues.
  • Wait until all options are out on the table and then group similar options together.

Step 5: Evaluate and Select Best Options
Select the options that are most workable for all parties involved.


  • Solicit each party’s view of the proposed options considering possible outcomes or consequences and other pros and cons.
  • Identify which options will best meet one or more of the shared needs.
  • When looking at options, don't let past experiences cloud present perceptions and decisions.
  • Narrow down the list based on which alternatives will best meet the needs of both parties.
  • Avoid spin-off conflicts by bypassing options that won't work for all involved.


Step 6:  Identify Action Steps
From the list of options, each party should identify specific action steps that they are willing to do to resolve the conflict or solve the issues. Action steps should be:


  • the ideas that have the best chance at success
  • steps that never promote unfair advantages on any sides
  • based on shared input and information from all parties
  • trust builders - they add confidence in working together
  • activities that meet shared needs


Step 7: Reach an Agreement
Decide which actions to pursue and establish a plan that provides mutual benefits and will give you lasting solutions to the specific conflict or issues.


  • Each party should state their interpretation of the agreement to ensure that everyone involved understands and agrees to the proposed plan.
  • Write down your shared goals and needs and agreed-upon actions.
  • Clarify exactly what is expected of each party in the agreement including your individual responsibilities.
  • Review the agreement in terms of these “hallmarks”:



    1. Is it fair? Do all parties feel the agreement is fair and reasonable? 2. Is the agreement balanced? Does everyone have a stake and role in its implementation?
    3. Are the action steps realistic? Do all parties have the time, energy, skills and resources to follow-through and implement this agreement?
    4. Is the agreement specific enough to proceed? Does everyone understand what they need to do and when they need to do it?
    5. To what degree is the agreement self-enforcing, or does it rely on others who were not present for the discussion? What needs to be done if others are unwilling to do things you hoped they would do in the agreement?
    6. Is the agreement future-oriented? In other words, have you considered what you will do if there are other problems or conflicts in the future?
    7. Have you built in a process for monitoring progress?




Step 8: Implement and Evaluate Your Plan
Now it’s time to implement your plan!


  • Periodically check back with each other and evaluate progress.
  • If unexpected challenges or other pitfalls occur, communicate openly with each other and as appropriate, sit down together if you need to renegotiate new solutions.
  • Be sure to recognize and reward success.
  • Reflect on the big picture: what can you learn from this experience that will help you address future issues?



This Tip Sheet was adapted  from the following references:


Collaboration Roundtable. The Partnership Toolkit: Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships. pp. 98-103. Available from URL:;


University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Human Resource Development and Office of Quality Improvement Conflict Resolution. Available from URL:


Weeks, Dudley. The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. 1992, as summarized by the Conflict Resolution class at Quinebaug Valley Community-Technical College, Danielson, CT. Available from URL:



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