Executive Master of Leadership Blog

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 18, 2018 2:52:25 PM / by Laree Kiely


Resolving conflict between two employees at work or between an employee and a manager is a challenge leaders face every day. We recently interviewed Laree Kiely, President and Chief Wisdom Officer of We Will, a conflict resolution training company, to discuss conflict resolution strategies and how to manage conflict in the workplace. Listen closely as Kiely shares her top conflict resolution tips and techniques.

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace



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How do you get people to work together? What enables them to find common ground, or common goals? What's the secret sauce? 

Kiely: At the root of almost all conflict is who gets to tell who what to do. So, if we can bring people together, find common ground, and then figure out how to co-create a solution where what they're hoping to solve for actually gets done and gets done in the best way for both parties. Oftentimes the answer to it is not either/or. It's a both/and kind of answer, so that we don't have to have one side that wins and another side that loses.

One of the things that we found out, just even in this country, if we could get rid of two things, we'd probably be a whole lot better off.

First is the confirmation bias, because at the root of critical thinking is essentially, "Can you and I argue for each other's point of view, not just our own?" That's at the root of critical thinking. We get people to that point, where they're not just going out and finding an opinion and then finding all the data that supports that opinion. That's the opposite of critical thinking.

The second thing, if we could get rid of this whole belief in the zero sum game. Life is not a zero sum game. If you want more love, power, attention, money - I can get you more of that. The one thing I cannot get you more of is an hour in the day.

If we start treating time as if it is finite and everything else as if it is limitless, then we can actually start solving problems. But if you or I, or both of us, walk in thinking that it's a zero sum game, that automatically assumes there's a winner and a loser.

"If we start treating time as if it is finite and everything else as if it is limitless, then we can actually start solving problems."


How is it that you get people to that point?

Kiely: We find that if you start the conversation at the level of the facts and at the level of what the hopes and dreams might be of all the various different factions, you'll start to see that people actually have almost critical common ground in everything.

It's when we reach the point of righteousness, where we think we're right and somebody else has to be wrong, we're going to argue for our own point of view, because we're so righteous about it, that never works. All that does is push people further away.

What's really sad about this is that we have known for decades what causes people to polarize. We know exactly what causes it. We know how to avoid it. We know how to make it work in spite of the differing opinions, but we continue to use the same process over and over again, from very bad, old habits that actually cause people to polarize.

Once they polarize, they entrench. Once you entrench in your own righteousness, then you take root, and it's a tap root. By that point it's almost impossible to get anybody to budge. Getting them to have a different kind of conversation in the front end is critical, as opposed to using the old process that we've been using for a long time that just simply doesn't work.


"Don't let people state an opinion too early on, because then they start forming camps immediately."


How would you describe that process, or what are some of the necessary elements for that process?

Kiely: One critical element is keep people from stating a position too early on, because when somebody states a position, they get stuck in it.

It has to do with saving face, and convincing themselves, and self-persuasion, all kinds of stuff. Keep people from forming or stating an opinion too early on. That actually starts getting people to start listening to each other.

But if I state my opinion, "This is what I believe is true. This is what I want." It almost always stays that way, only gets progressively more entrenched. Number one, don't let people state an opinion too early on, because then they start forming camps immediately.

We also start forming camps based on, "Hm. I like him better than I like him, and so I think I'm going to go with him," which has to do with affinity seeking. It's psychological. It's neurological. We like people who are like us, and we care more about where information comes from than we care about the quality of the information.

Try to ensure there's no contaminated information in the front end, which is the forming of opinions and knowing whose opinions are whose.


"Oftentimes the answer is not 'either/or'. It's a 'both/and' kind of answer"


You mentioned that if you're not entrenched in an opinion, you're better able to listen. Can you speak more about at that point?

Kiely: There are a couple of tools that we ask people to use in the process, particularly if we think you have a differing opinion and we're asking you not to state your opinion. You have to use the thing that we call the listening laws.

First of all, you have to come up with something, anything that you sincerely like about what they said, even if you disagree.

There's almost always something you can find that you like or might agree with. In fact, in negotiation and conflict one of the main breakthrough strategies is, "Well, we may not agree on everything, but I sure agree with you about that." It actually breaks the whole thing wide open. So, the first thing to do is affirm something, anything that you strongly, firmly, sincerely like about what the other party said. You can't open your mouth until you can do that.

The second step of it is just adding a data point. The third step of it has to do with then saying, "But what I'm worried about is this." Now, you're stating your opinion, but it's stated as a concern, rather than a disagreement. If you're giving me a concern, I'm much more willing to listen to that. If I think you're disagreeing with me, I'm gonna put up my guard.

Then the last piece is, after I've told you what I like about it and essentially what I'm worrying about, then I just basically say back to you, "So, what do you think we could do about that?" Then you shut up. You don't give them the answer. You let them answer. That's where you end up with actually a dialogue, rather than this righteous kind of we're both talking, but nobody's listening to anybody.

It's a necessary step that we mandate. Whenever anybody says anything that you disagree with, you have to use [the listening laws].


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Further Reading


Topics: Women Leadership, Leadership Skills

Laree Kiely

Written by Laree Kiely

President of WeWill and The Kiely Group--Organizational Effectiveness Consultants--serves on the executive program faculties of Duke CE, USC Sol Price School, Thunderbird International Business School, Ivey University (Toronto, Canada), and UCLA in the field of executive leadership and organizational development bridging all four sectors: Government, Non-Profit, Education, and Corporate/Private.

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