How to Train Managers in Conflict Resolution: A Science-Backed Approach

Conflict Resolution
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How to Train Managers in Conflict Resolution: A Science-Backed Approach

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Workplace conflict will inevitably arise in any organization. But when it does, your managers need to be trained to quickly and efficiently resolve issues, have difficult conversations, and help fix damaged working relationships. After all, how we respond to conflict often determines whether the outcome is positive or negative.

In short, you want your team to understand how to turn issues into opportunities for innovation and for collaboration — or at the very least, to keep a workplace conflict from becoming destructive. 

At Hone, we’ve created a science-backed method for resolving conflicts and issues. The method has three steps:

  1. Diagnose the conflict
  2. Choose a conflict style
  3. Recap, request, and re-evaluate

Here’s a detailed look at what each step entails and how to train your managers to resolve workplace conflicts like a pro:

1. Diagnose The Conflict

In order to resolve a workplace issue, you must first understand its root cause. Coaching skills like active listening and asking powerful questions can help your managers quickly diagnose a conflict and gather the information they need to move towards a resolution.

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Here are a few questions you can teach your managers to ask their direct reports:

  • What happened? 
  • What’s going on?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What needs of yours are not being met?
  • What can I do for you?
  • What would you like to happen?

The beauty of asking these questions is that answering them may be enough to resolve the conflict on its own: sometimes, just getting their feelings off their chest will be enough for an employee to feel better. Often, talking things through outloud can help them realize how to resolve the conflict themselves. 

But these types of conversations won’t always resolve an employee’s issues. That’s when it’s crucial that your managers actively listen to their employee’s description of the incident, their needs, and what type of support they want from their manager.

2. Choose a Conflict Style

The Dual Concern Model is a powerful model developed by organizational psychologists, including Dean Pruitt and Jeffrey Rubin, that bases conflict resolution on the dimensions of assertiveness and empathy. Assertiveness is the level at which you are concerned for yourself, while empathy is your concern for others. According to this model, there are five ways to address conflict: competition, collaboration, compromise, avoidance, and accommodation.

Here is a breakdown of the Dual Concern Model’s five methods and how to teach them to your managers: 

The Dual Concern Model: 5 Ways to Address Conflicts

  1. Collaborate

“Would you be willing to work together to come to a solution that helps the both of us?”

This method combines high empathy and assertiveness to try to work together to come to a solution. Collaboration can be a great conflict solution when there’s enough time to consult with all key stakeholders and secure their buy-in.

  1. Compromise

“Would you be willing to meet in the middle?”

This method can be used when it’s important for each party to view the outcome as fair. It typically leaves little time for negotiation or input and combines existing processes or behaviors that both parties have in place. 

  1. Compete

“Would you be willing to accept my solution?”

Competition can be a way to muscle-through a conflict, especially when you need a swift resolution and believe your approach is the best one.

  1. Accommodate

“I accept your request.”

When something is of relatively little importance to you and more important for the other parties or have little hope of achieving your desired outcome, accommodation can be a quick way to resolve an issue. 

  1. Avoid

“Would you be willing to wait a little bit and see if the situation resolves itself?”

If a workplace conflict is small and likely to go away on its own, you can always mutually choose to ignore it or address it at a later date. 

There is no absolutely correct style for any given situation. You should encourage your managers to be thoughtful and consider all of their options before making a choice.

3. Recap, Request, Re-Evaluate

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The last step in the Hone conflict model is when a manager will explicitly address the conflict. This step has three parts: recap, request, and re-evaluate.

  1. Recap

To ensure your managers have been caught up to speed on the situation at hand, instruct them to repeat back the key messages they’ve heard an employee share. 

  • Here’s what I understand happened/is happening: _________
  • It sounds like you feel ________
  • Because you need/value ________. 

After sharing their understanding of the issue, teach managers to check in with the other person to ensure what they’ve stated is accurate. If they misunderstood the conflict at this stage, they will have to revisit the questions in Step 1 outlined at the beginning of this article.

  1. Request

The next stage is encouraging your managers to make an explicit request by phrasing their request based on the chosen conflict style. So, for example…

Would you be willing to ________?

  • Collaboration: “work together to come to a solution that helps both of us?”
  • Compromise: “meet in the middle?”
  • Compete: “accept my solution?”
  • Avoid: “wait a little bit and see if the situation resolves itself?”
  1. Re-Evaluate

Finally, after you’ve made your request you can re-evaluate the conflict, by asking three questions.

  • Does that make sense to you? 
  • How do you feel about it?
  • What are the next steps? 

The key part of this last step is acknowledging and validating an employee’s experience. If both parties aren’t aligned on these three questions, then the conflict will likely continue. If they sense misalignment or pushback, instruct your managers to revisit their diagnosis or choose a new conflict style.

Want to teach your team at-scale how to navigate difficult conversations and manage conflicts like a pro? 
Sign up for a free 30-day trial for you and your team to try Hone for yourself. Take classes like Lead Through Turbulent Times, Transform Conflict into Collaboration, Give Feedback That Lands, and more.

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How to Train Managers in Conflict Resolution: A Science-Backed Approach