10 steps to managing conflict

1. Find out the cause

  • Listen actively – really listen – don’t plan on what you’re going to say next
  • Use empathy – really be interested in the other person’s point of view – you can find it out and acknowledge it without necessarily agreeing with it
  • Don’t assume the other person is trying to hurt you
  • Do assume that they are doing their best
  • Be solution focused – aim at the problem, not the person (if you attack the other person, it might feel good but is not likely to get you a resolution)

2. Articulate your experience – how is it for you?

  • Use “I” statements (“When you talk like that, I get confused and have difficulty in understanding you”)
  • Avoid using “you” statements where possible (“you are acting like a 13-year-old…”)
  • Don’t generalise (“when I get things wrong – you always shout at me…”)
  • Communicate how you feel (“when you shout at me in front of the staff, I feel humiliated”)

3. Deal with the past

  • If possible deal with the situation at hand – try not to pull out a “laundry list” of past complaints. If you are holding onto past feelings or complaints it won’t be easy to complete this conversation
  • If you do need to deal with other issues”bracket” them (“There are other things we need to discuss but right now I want to concentrate on this particular issue”)
  • Or group them into a single “I” statement (“I feel put down a lot on this job”)

4. Consider possible outcomes – what might happen?

Run over all of the possibilities you can think of.


  • Keys to resolving conflict include careful listening, humility, a willingness to look at your part in the matter and above all kindness

5. Pick the outcome you want

  • Ask for what you need – respectfully and politely
  • Know what you want:
    • commitment to future improved behaviour? (“In the future, I’d appreciate it if you’d take me aside privately to discuss any mistakes I make – I’d also like some further training on………… so that I don’t make the same mistake again.”)
    • recognition of the wrong omitted against you? (“When you shout at me I feel humiliated and it makes it difficult to concentrate on my job…”)
    • an apology?

6. Apologise if appropriate

  • Look at your part in the matter – you may feel justified in being upset but what was your part in the conflict?
  • Has the other person identified something you could have handled differently? (“I apologise for not checking to see whether the consulting room was free at that time. I can see how it has inconvenienced you”)
  • The use of personal warmth can dramatically move things to another level.

7. Make a commitment – to future actions or behaviour

This step is frequently missed – leaving both people unsatisfied

  • When both people feel a resolution has been reached, there has usually been some commitment from each to future action or behaviour
  • This step is especially important if you feel wronged – it shows that even though you are upset and feel the message could have been delivered better, you did hear the message (“In the future I will turn up to work on time and negotiate extra time off well in advance – I want to do good job here and I do take the work seriously”)

8. Ask for an apology if appropriate

  • We are not very good at apologising
  • If you need an apology to move forward you may have to ask (“It would help me move forward if you apologised for telling me I was a waste of space…”) – It takes courage.
  • Assume the other person’s best intentions

9. Ask for a commitment from them – to future actions or behaviour

  • Again – frequently missed which can leave you feeling unsatisfied and unresolved
  • Use kindness, use empathy, but stick with it even if the conversation feels forced or uncomfortable (“In the future I’d like you to speak to me before you undertake that particular piece of surgery – are you willing to commit to that?”) or (“In the future I’d like you to find a way of pointing out my mistakes which is not a personal put down – do you think you could do that?”)

10. Learn from the interaction

  • What can you learn about yourself from the conflict?
  • Do you need to change what you do?
  • Do you need to change how you react?
  • What can you learn about the systems, policies and operating procedures of the practice that could be changed to avoid this type of conflict in the future?
  • Is there any training necessary?
  • Is there any way you can improve communication – both formal and informal.

What might sabotage this – what are the pitfalls?

  • Internal chatter – stopping you hearing the other person
  • Blaming others – it’s always their fault…
  • Expecting others to change
  • Getting tied up in past resentments
  • No apology
  • No clear request for change
  • No final commitment
  • Gossiping, venting or complaining to others after the conversation is over

Further reading