Conflict can feel inevitable in the workplace. On top of causing headaches for everyone involved, workplace conflict can be costly. Disagreements and conflict can lead to lost time and revenue, as well as a less tangible impact on morale and corporate culture, as the tension from persistent conflict can promote employee disengagement.

With employee stress reported at an all-time high, business owners and leaders should seek to address and remediate workplace conflict quickly and effectively to prevent further stress. This is done through a conflict resolution meeting, which can require unique facilitation skills that some managers may not have.

In this article, we outline the basics of the conflict resolution meeting and share a quick guide to facilitating a conflict resolution meeting.

What Is a Conflict Resolution Meeting?

A conflict resolution meeting is a dedicated meeting to address persistent or significant disagreement related to one or more employees in a workplace. Conflict resolution meetings are not needed for regular, healthy disagreements that naturally occur in the workplace. 

Instead, they should be used for conflict that cannot be overcome by standard communication or conflict that can negatively impact productivity, business performance, employee wellbeing, and corporate culture. The conflict may or may not be in violation of company policies, and the appropriate leaders and managers should always be made aware of the need for a meeting.

Any serious allegations such as harassment and bullying should be addressed immediately by HR.

Conflict resolution meetings are often conducted by managers and leaders who may or may not have the facilitation skills necessary to lead the process. Though they are typically well-intentioned, organizational leaders do not represent a neutral enough party for the best possible conflict resolution. At the very least, the leader or manager is not perceived as neutral by both parties equally, which makes it difficult for both parties to then be completely forthcoming.

Experienced facilitators can serve as that truly neutral party, guiding all the involved parties through the often uncomfortable conflict resolution process. Conflict resolution is an invitation, not a demand, with the goal of coming to a satisfactory agreement for all parties. 

Why Conflict Occurs in the Workplace

Not all conflict in the workplace is negative. Healthy conflict can be a part of a normal decision-making process, with the involved parties working through their differences in opinions to reach a satisfactory resolution. It’s normal for employees to have disagreements, as workplaces bring together a variety of personality types in conflict-inducing situations.

Sometimes, though, conflict reflects a larger issue, an underlying problem that crops up regularly. The University of Oklahoma points out a few primary causes of workplace conflict, including:

  • Poor communication
  • Different values
  • Differing interests
  • Scarce resources
  • Personality clashes
  • Poor performance

No matter the initial cause, workplace conflict can typically be classified by type: task-based conflict, relationship conflict, and value conflict. Sometimes conflict can be connected to poorly defined job roles, too, with the expectations of the employee not aligning with what the manager assigns. Identifying the cause and type of conflict can be helpful in the conflict resolution process.

6 Steps for Facilitating a Conflict Resolution Meeting

It’s important to remember that conflict is unique to the individuals involved and the nature of the workplace. The below steps for facilitating a conflict resolution meeting serve as a basic outline, but your conflict resolution meeting may look slightly different based on your scenario.

1. Establish Ground Rules

To ensure an equitable workplace, policies and procedures should be easily accessible by all employees—and enforced fairly across the board. Reference how the conflict involves any policies from your employee handbook and official procedures, and, if you’ll be utilizing any additional documents or resources, review them prior to the meeting.

As part of facilitating a conflict resolution meeting, you may also put together guidelines of how participants should interact. This can include the use of “I” statements and the focus on the specific problems rather than on people.

If any documentation will be a part of the meeting, be consistent on how that is recorded and ensure that it remains confidential. Conflict resolution meetings can be highly personal and should not be shared with anyone outside of those in the meeting and leaders who need to know the outcome.

2. Identify and Involve All Parties

There’s no worse feeling than realizing you were left out of a vital meeting; that holds true for conflict resolution. While your initial planning and investigation meetings may not involve all parties, the ultimate conflict resolution meeting should bring everyone together and give all parties time to share their feelings. 

Facilitate the conflict resolution meeting in a private office and at a time that works well for all parties involved. Be cognizant that this meeting may be a source of anxiety for some of the parties and thus may affect when they want to schedule the meeting.

Some conflict resolution meetings can be successfully conducted by a manager and the involved employee, particularly when the conflict is task-related. For more persistent or involved conflict, though, a dedicated facilitator can be hugely beneficial, serving as a neutral party and leveraging the unique power of their emotional intelligence and facilitation skills. 

When utilizing a facilitator, emphasize early in the meeting that the facilitator’s role is not to control the conversation but to serve as a resource for the benefit of the participants.

3. Set a Time Limit for Discussion

Set a clear amount of time for each involved party to share their feelings and goals, and share the expectation for that time limit up front. The conflict resolution meeting is meant to be a safe space to share feedback, but it’s important not to spend too long rehashing past events. Instead, make it clear that the focus will be on identifying the cause of the conflict and moving toward a resolution.

This time limit can also help prevent escalation and tangents. It also importantly prevents employees from avoiding the conflict, which is a less-recognized style of conflict management, as everyone involved has their own period of time to share their honest feelings.

The conflict resolution process can be highly uncomfortable, so sharing these time limits and expectations ahead of time can help alleviate anxiety. Participants will know what to expect.

4. Create a Safe Environment for Discussion

Approach the conflict resolution meeting with an open mind, encouraging honesty and open feedback. If your organization has corporate values, it may be useful to restate your corporate values up front, centering them in the meeting.

You can also ask the meeting attendees to agree to basic rules, such as:

  • Participants will work in good faith toward a solution.
  • Participants will treat each other with respect.
  • Participants will take ownership for their actions.
  • Participants will make an effort to understand other viewpoints.

As you facilitate more of these meetings, your conflict resolution management strategy may grow to include a clear set of rules and expectations that is documented and shared, rather than a simple verbal reminder.

A great facilitator will include scheduled break times for longer conflict resolution meetings, and they may also find it necessary to take unscheduled breaks when emotions get too high for discussion to be productive. The conflict resolution process can look different for every disagreement, and thus is not a process that can be rushed to fit within short time frames. It’s important to be realistic and open to giving a bit more time if things are continuing in a productive manner, as moderated by a skilled facilitator.

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5. Use Active Listening Skills to Understand All Perspectives

Successful conflict resolution strategies rely on active listening to hear opportunities for compromise. Good active listening will quickly begin to relieve any tension in the meeting, as it makes it clear to all parties involved that you hear their stories and you validate their feelings.

As the conflict is discussed, restate the main facts and reflect the emotional side to ensure that you are accurately understanding the employee’s experience. As the time limit is reached, summarize the most important components of the discussion.

6. Develop an Action Plan to Resolve the Conflict

As you gain a full picture of the conflict, look for areas of collaboration or compromise between the employee and the area of conflict, whether that involves a task or another person. Focus on positive efforts that move everyone forward toward their goals, while staying grounded in your organization’s guidelines and values.

Identify every employee’s role in the action plan and clearly assign any follow-up tasks. Be sure to distribute these tasks fairly and with consideration to the current workload and other tasks that must be completed as part of each person’s role. 

After the meeting, share next steps regarding the action plan. If it seems necessary, schedule a follow-up meeting to check in on the conflict and ensure future conflicts have not cropped up.

Take time to reflect on the conflict, noting any larger patterns that this conflict is indicative in the workplace. The content of the conflict resolution meeting should remain confidential, but the knowledge you gained from it can be leveraged to better help future conflict situations.

Learn Facilitation Skills for Better Conflict Resolution Meetings

The importance of conflict resolution skills cannot be understated in today’s corporate culture. Facilitators and collaborative leaders alike are called upon regularly to navigate the tricky conflicts that occur from the different personality types in the modern workplace.

At Voltage Control, we know our way around a conflict resolution meeting—we help leaders and teams harness the power of facilitation for conflict resolution and beyond through our certifications, workshops, and more. Voltage Control also hosts the popular Facilitation Lab community, which features a free weekly meetup where you can engage with and learn from other facilitators from around the globe.

Contact Voltage Control to learn more about conflict resolution facilitation training for your organization.