What Is Business Conflict Resolution?

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Conflict is something that each of us experiences. Whenever we interact with another person or group of people, there is potential for conflict. And it isn’t unique to our personal relationships—business conflicts can easily arise between coworkers, and they often do. And when they do, utilizing conflict resolution techniques can help to restore harmony between the disputing parties.

What Is Conflict Resolution?

So, what is conflict resolution? Is it forcing an end to a dispute without proper consideration of anyone’s feelings or concerns? Is it physically separating the disputing parties, perhaps by moving one or more of the parties to a different team or department, without addressing the underlying issues? The short answer is no. Methods such as these may technically “end” a conflict, but they don’t resolve anything either.

Consider instead the American Psychological Association’s conflict resolution definition, which describes it as “the reduction of discord and friction between individuals or groups, usually through the use of active strategies, such as conciliation, negotiation and bargaining.”1 We see here that the true meaning of conflict resolution involves the participation of the parties to the conflict—allowing them to voice their concerns and perhaps even trade benefits to reach a solution. In business conflicts, this process will likely involve the participation and guidance of management and/or HR.

Why Is Conflict Resolution Important?

It’s not too hard to imagine different conflict scenarios that could arise in the workplace: A member of a team feels taken advantage of because he believes his fellow team members aren’t pulling their weight. An employee is angry because her boss took all the credit for a project that she dedicated herself to for months. Two colleagues can no longer work together because one makes offensive remarks that cause the other to feel uncomfortable.

Resolving business conflicts such as these requires the application of conflict resolution skills and techniques. While everyone stands to benefit from developing their conflict management skills, it’s especially important for managers and human resources professionals to understand how to deal with employee conflict in ways that are not only effective but in line with company policy. The sooner issues are resolved, the sooner everyone can get back to focusing on their work.

Conflict Resolution Skills

There are various potential strategies for solving conflicts (consider Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann’s five conflict resolution strategies: Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating and Compromising2) that might be applied to a given situation. Note, however, that avoiding might not be the ideal approach to conflict resolution in the workplace, particularly where employees in conflict must continue to work with each other. In fact, according to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), “increased productivity and engagement are correlated with the shortness of time between identifying a problem and discussing it.”3 In other words, avoiding as a strategy should be avoided. And if that’s the case, then developing or improving your conflict resolution skills could help you facilitate more positive outcomes in business conflicts.

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

As we mentioned above, conflict resolution in business often involves more than just the disputing parties themselves—in many cases, management and HR will need to take control of the process and guide the parties involved in the conflict toward a resolution.

SHRM suggests 10 conflict resolution techniques that HR professionals can use in resolving business conflicts. The following is a summary of these techniques:3

  1. Set ground rules.
  2. Ask participants to describe the conflict in their own words.
  3. Ask participants to repeat what others have stated.
  4. Have the HR representative summarize the conflict and obtain the participants’ agreement on the summarization.
  5. Brainstorm solutions.
  6. Throw out unusable solutions.
  7. Summarize all possible solutions.
  8. Assign a possible solution to participants for further analysis.
  9. Make sure everyone is on the same page as to next steps.
  10. At the meeting’s conclusion, ask everyone to shake hands, apologize and thank one another for working to resolve the conflict.

Also let’s not forget that sometimes conflict can have a net positive impact. How can conflict be positive? Sometimes a resolution might leave the disputing parties in a better position than they were before the conflict occurred. Additionally, clear and respectful communication throughout the conflict resolution process could also help to promote healthier interpersonal relationships.

Dealing with Employee Conflict

Not every businessperson or aspiring businessperson is comfortable with or good at working through conflict, let alone comfortable with or good at guiding others to acceptable resolutions. If that sounds like you, then how do you deal with employee conflict? Fortunately, conflict resolution skills are soft skills that can be developed and improved.

American InterContinental University offers conflict resolution-related elective courses as part of its Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) curriculum. For example:

  • Building Teams and Resolving Conflict addresses the methods of building cohesive teams and diffusing confrontation and provides an exploration of the opportunities and challenges which can arise from a diverse workforce.
  • Managing Organizational Change presents conceptual and experiential approaches to the topic of organizational change and organization development, placing special emphasis on developing interpersonal skills in the analysis of various situations.
  • Diversity in the Workplace considers the work experience with respect to differing ethnic backgrounds and gender identities. It explores topics such as work-related stereotypes and attitudes, discrimination and harassment, occupational segregation, employment patterns, group differences related to fair testing and employment practices and more.

AIU’s BBA degree program is offered in a number of different specializations, such as Human Resources Management, Project Management, Management and more.

Conflict Resolution Career Paths

There are some professionals who focus solely on conflict resolution. Arbitrators, mediators and conciliators are one example. Many of these roles require education appropriate to the applicant’s field of expertise rather than a degree from an arbitration, mediation or conflict resolution program. Such professionals develop their skills through education, training and work experience.4

The majority of people, however, do not focus primarily on conflict resolution in their professional lives. For them, conflict resolution in the workplace is but one aspect of their overall work responsibilities: Human resources managers, for example, handle staffing issues, such as mediating disputes and directing disciplinary procedures, as part of their day-to-day responsibilities,5 but it’s not all they do. Some employers may prefer to hire project management specialists who have experience in employee relations in addition to meeting various other education, training and licensing requirements.6 And of course any business professional tasked with employee oversight will probably be faced with the question of how to deal with conflict in a team at some point in their career, perhaps even regularly.

Study Conflict Resolution Strategies & More in an AIU BBA Degree Program

If you’re looking for an online BBA program where you can study a versatile mix of business-related hard and soft skills, including those relevant to conflict resolution, then AIU has you covered. We offer an array of specializations to help you better tailor your studies to your interests and educational goals. And all of our programs are designed to be flexible and convenient to better fit the needs of busy adults.

Explore AIU’s undergraduate online business degree program today.

1 American Psychological Association (APA), APA Dictionary of Psychology, “conflict resolution,” https://dictionary.apa.org/conflict-resolution (last visited 8/14/2023).
2 Ralph H. Kilmann, “An Overview of the TKI Assessment Tool,” Kilman Diagnostics, https://kilmanndiagnostics.com/brief-overview-of-the-tki-assessment/ (last visited 10/6/2023).
3 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “How to Resolve Workplace Conflicts,” https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/070815-conflict-management.aspx (last visited 8/14/2023).
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Arbitrators, Mediators and Conciliators,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/arbitrators-mediators-and-conciliators.htm (last visited 8/14/2023).
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Human Resources Managers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm (last visited 8/14/2023).
6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Project Management Specialists,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/project-management-specialists.htm (last visited 8/14/2023).

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. REQ1963880 9/2023

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