Resolving Conflict

Conflict between you and someone on your team – for Leaders

Conflict between you and someone on your team should only happen within the context of disagreement about work and, as the leader, you should be resolving it as quickly as possible.

Not only are you resolving the issue, you’re also role modelling how the team should react to and deal with conflict.

We suggest a coaching conversation as a great way to resolve conflict. Step thoughtfully. This relationship with you is hugely impactful on every person in your team. You can be the difference to them feeling confident and happy at work, and able to do their best work, or feeling on edge, unsupported and stressed.

These are the steps:


  • Jot down some points on the conflict. When and where, and details.
  • Be very open minded and confident that the conflict can be resolved.
  • Try and walk in the shoes of your direct report. What do you think is behind this conflict?
  • Consider your role in the conflict. What is your contribution? What have you done to cause the conflict and what have you done to attempt to resolve it? Are you being reasonable? Are you being sensitive to their context?
  • If it’s ongoing, think about how you’ve tried to resolve it in the past. What’s worked and what hasn’t?
  • Connect with the person on your team and make a time to speak. Don’t toss the conversation into the tail end of another meeting. Don’t surprise them. You already have the power position as the leader. Allow them the opportunity to expect the conversation as well.

Don’t gossip about this situation to anyone. To resolve the conflict you need to respectful and transparent directly with the person. If you genuinely want to resolve the conflict, you can’t be seen to be fuelling the flames.

GROW – the conversation

  • Set a Goal – explain the conflict in as factual way as possible. Explain how you’re feeling and where you think that’s coming from. Ask them how they’re feeling.
  • Reality – explain how you think the conflict is impacting on you working together, and the quality of work you’re achieving together, if in fact you think it’s having an impact. Be specific about your reality. Be open to their perspective of the same reality.
  • Options – talk about options for resolving the conflict. Look at resolving it from both sides. Make sure the resolution is genuine for both of you. Trust in this relationship is very important and has a huge impact on your ability to enjoy work and to do great work together.
  • Wrap up – with agreement on how you’ll all go forward.

Follow Up – After a conflict between you and one of your team, depending on the foundations of the relationship, and how well you handled the conflict resolution, it can take a while to reconnect and be completely comfortable in the working relationship. We suggest you put a little extra effort into the relationship. Build more than your half of the bridge back to working well together. We also suggest a more formal follow up to reconfirm that the conflict is resolved and everything is working well. The follow up just closes off the issue and gets the discussion back on the positive side of the work you’re doing together.

This direct approach is much aligned to open constructive relationships and culture. If you’re a good leader and have a good team, having the occasional conflict and resolving in a straight forward manner should be a normal part of life. If you have a person in your team who cannot work through conflict in a constructive manner, you should consider how “coachable” this issue is for them. It’s not just about resolving the conflict, it’s also about showing conflict can be resolved more generally. And again, you’re not just demonstrating for the person involved but also for the rest of the team who are watching. They’ll assume that your ability to resolve conflict constructively is part of how you lead, and how they’ll be treated when there’s conflict in the future.

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mwah. making work absolutely human

As well as a GROW Coaching Conversation, there are a few extra things you can do to resolve conflict with your manager:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Understand Motive and Reason
  3. Insert ‘WIN’ into your Language
  4. Know What to Avoid
  5. CARE


(1) Know Yourself

Conflict is part of life, but it needn’t be a disaster when it happens. Working with someone closely, as you do with your team, you see each other at your best and worst, and during conflict you should have enough respect and confidence in each other to resolve it together. To do that well, you have to be very aware of your genuine commitment to the relationship, and whether you’re doing everything you can to make the relationship work well.  Do not underestimate the extra accountability for the relationship that comes from the being the leader. You are only as successful as the team that works with you.

(2) Understand Motive and Reason

Conflict can have a number of reasons behind it. It can be the culmination of small things adding up, it can the result of a particular work pressure or event, or if can symptomatic of a not-great relationship. Thinking through the reasons behind the conflict will help you know whether you’re honestly resolving a particular conflict, or whether your relationship is inconsistent.

At the heart of reasons behind the conflict, you need to be sure that you have this person’s back and are as supportive of their success, as they deserve you to be, and that this conflict is not symptomatic of a deeper problem in the relationship.

(3) Insert ‘WIN’ into your Language

There’s a great little model in the Workplace Conflict Guide (Harding, Whelan and Farrar, 2014 – link below this section). It’s called “WIN”.

Insert this simple frame into your conversation with the person on your team:

It’s the “3 steps to W.I.N” approach as you prepare for a conversation to resolve conflict:

Step 1  When you… – describe your concerns about past events using neutral, factual language, as far as possible. For example you might say:  “Last week when you raised your voice in the meeting…”

Step 2  I feel… – explain how it made you feel:  “I felt hurt, under attack”.

Step 3  Next time… – propose to the other person what you could both do differently in the future:  “Next time could we both talk about any problems before the team meeting?”

It’s nice language to soften a conversation when you’re feeling emotional or hurt or annoyed, or even a little insecure, as is often the case when you’re dealing with conflict with your team.

(4) Know What to Avoid

There’s a few things to avoid if you’re serious about resolving conflict and constructively. Here’s the short list:

  • Don’t be pessimistic. If you’re constructive and confident, you can resolve any conflict that comes your way.
  • Don’t bad mouth any person or gossip about them. It will get back to the person. There’s no excuses. You’re all grown-ups, plus you’re the leader. Own that responsibility and set a better example. Keep your own head clear as well. Be fair and treat the person well.
  • Don’t be defensive and don’t let others be defensive. Don’t buy into conspiracy theories. Aim to resolve the conflict constructively and have everyone move on without baggage. Holding on to conflict will steal good sleep from everyone who is involved, and not add anything helpful to the situation.
  • Don’t be close minded. Be open to all sides of the conflict. Be open to all potential solutions.

 (5) CARE

At mwah, we suggest every work situation starts with CARE. Caring about the person in front of you, in this case, your manager, who you have the conflict with.

We use CARE as an acronym:

  • Connected
  • Authentic
  • Respectful
  • Empathetic

Connected – Stay connected to every person on your team, including this person in the conflict, and assume you can resolve any conflict.

Authentic – Keep it honest and real.

Respectful – Maintain respect between the two of you.

Empathetic – Stay empathetic. Open to the other person. Trying to walk in their shoes.

All this combined, gives you the best chance of resolving any conflict. And we go right back to the beginning, reminding you that a business only thrives when the leaders work in step with every person on their team. No one wants to be in an ongoing conflict with their manager. The one thing we all want is a fair leader who backs us and supports us to do good work.  Own any conflict between you and anyone on your team and get it fixed, and get it fixed in a way that shows what sort of leader you are.

And, if conflict is not resolvable between you and any member of your team, you may need to consider the impact of this context on your performance and on their performance, and on their ability to confidently contribute at their best. There are occasions when conflict with a member of your team becomes a big detailer in a person’s career and work-life.

It is such a critical relationship, that if conflict remains, it might be best to consider having a deep conversation to re-rail the relationship. Take a few hours and share a meal. Be more determined to make it work. And if it does become impossible to solve, then you need to have an honest conversation about it becoming a derailer to the whole team. You just can’t let conflict sit in your team without resolution.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

Resolving conflict with a direct report in your own team is as fundamental a leadership skill as you get. It’s an absolutely core career skill. We don’t always have perfect relationships with our team, nor do we always get to choose only the sort of people we get along easily with. Sometimes, the more difficult people on your team are also some of the best contributors on the team. They challenge us and give a different perspective. They work differently and add a dimension no one else can add.

That said, there’s a significant difference working for a person with whom you need to resolve conflict with occasionally and a person with whom you cannot form a constructive relationship.

If you find yourself constantly trying to resolve conflict, particularly if you feel you’re the only one in the relationship who is, then you will eventually need to weigh up whether it’s a workable long-term relationship. You need to ensure that it’s in the business’ best interest or whether you’d be better with another more constructive relationship in your team. You might like to talk to others who have worked well with the person, and find other ways to collaborate more constructively.

Beyond the specific relationship, if you want to develop deep expertise in conflict resolution, we suggest a combination of practice and also reading from the experts.

Using the GROW coaching model to resolve conflict and keep the additional points in mind:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Understand Motive and Reason
  3. Insert ‘WIN’ into your Language
  4. Know What to Avoid
  5. CARE


You might like to also now look at the models of conflict resolution. The most popular one is the Thomas Kilmann model –


It’s obviously best to move to a collaborating stage to resolve conflict but looking at these options and being aware of both your own behaviour and that of the person on your team, you can decide if you need to “up” assertiveness or cooperativeness to move the resolution forward. It’s a nice frame to use to challenge behaviour.

There are also, as mentioned, some great free books on iTunes that deal with Conflict Resolution.

We recommend two. Both are really helpful. You will need an iTunes account and iBooks, but the books themselves are free are written by experts in conflict resolution and mediation.

Here’s the Australian one. It is one of the best resources you can find about conflict resolution in the Australian environment

And here’s the American one

And if you want to become a serious expert in conflict resolution and conflict systems theory, this research paper is hard to beat

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

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