Dealing with Conflict in an Increasingly Virtual Work World

Conflict Resolution: Strategies for Success

Empower Conflict Resolution

Approach Potential Conflict with a Positive Attitude

Embracing the New Norm for Effective Resolution

If you’ve ever taken a class on conflict resolution skills, you most likely took the class in-person, sitting in a classroom setting with the opportunity to learn, interact and practice how to handle conflict.  With the global shift in work environments to operate more virtually, you may not have that same opportunity.  Not only that, many analysts are predicting that telework – remote work – telecommuting – working virtually is here to stay.  Though the opportunity participate in an in-person class on conflict resolution may return, most likely you’ll still be faced with resolving conflict at a distance with many colleagues, staff, stakeholders, etc. (depending on your line of work, your organization, etc.)  The bottom line is that for many leaders, virtual work has taken root and will continue to thrive as workers are adjusting to working from home.Conflict resolution skills in the workplace need to evolve as the new-norm workplace evolves.

What is Conflict and Conflict Resolution?

Let’s begin with a simple conflict resolution definition: “two or more parties resolve a dispute peacefully”.  Conflict resolution is the process of eliminating or mitigating the conflict.  Another phrase or conflict resolution synonym is “dispute resolution”.  The parties involved have a conflict situation (dispute, disagreement) and have a desire to solve the problem, often with a negotiated agreement.

Traditional types of conflict resolution and conflict resolution techniques can be applied in today’s work environment, with adjustments to working virtually.  Let’s begin with top conflict resolution strategies and consider possible adjustments to address the virtual component.

Resolve Conflict with Deep Listening

Set Aside Your Perspective to Listen Deeply for Understanding

Win-Win Strategy to Resolve Conflict

Look for a Win-Win to Resolve Conflict

What are the 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies?

The Thomas-Kilmann Model identifies five different approaches to resolving conflict. These approaches include:

  • Accommodating: Someone who uses a strategy of “avoiding" mostly tries to ignore or sidestep the conflict, hoping it will resolve itself or dissipate.
  • Avoiding: Using the strategy of “accommodating" to resolve conflict essentially involves taking steps to satisfy the other party's concerns or demands at the expense of your own needs or desires.
  • Compromising: The strategy of “compromising" involves finding an acceptable resolution that will partly, but not entirely, satisfy the concerns of all parties involved.
  • Competing: Someone who uses the conflict resolution strategy of “competing" tries to satisfy their own desires at the expense of the other parties involved.
  • Collaborating: Using “collaborating" involves finding a solution that entirely satisfies the concerns of all involved parties.


From our point of view, here are conflict resolution steps for finding a solution and creating a win-win.  Though they are listed in order, you may experience the need to circle back through one or more of the steps to increase the probability for an agreeable path forward.

Successful Conflict Resolution

Be Present With Yourself and Others to Navigate Conflict

~ Do a Self-Check:

  • What are your thoughts and emotions relative to the conflict, and to the other person(s) involved?
  • Is your thinking clear or would you benefit from stepping away? Research shows that if you’ve been emotionally triggered (hijacked), taking a 20-minute break restores more balanced thinking.
  • What is/are your desired outcome(s)?
  • What’s the benefit to you, to all those impacted of resolving this conflict amicably and as a win-win? Put yourself in each of the stakeholder’s shoes as you evaluate and answer this question.
  • What are you willing to let go of?
  • Be honest with yourself

~ Listen – Engage in a Conversation

  • Be willing to be a listener
  • First, ask open-ended questions while suspending your desire to be right, to win, to judge (easier said than done for most of us)
  • Reflect back what the other party is saying – to their satisfaction, not yours
  • Clarify until they feel heard and understood (though you may not agree with their perspective). In a virtual environment, it’s easier to misunderstand what another is saying or trying to communicate.  Clarifying (without emotion) is a key component before moving on.
  • Ascertain the other’s: perspective, issues, desired outcome
  • Once the other person feels heard, valued and understood, it’s your turn to voice your thoughts.

~ Convey – Share Your Perspective

  • Without emotion, share: how you see the dispute/situation, your desired outcome, what you see as commonalities in moving forward to resolution
  • Focus on the positive (again, easier said than done sometimes as the ego has a stake in winning)
  • If you were being your highest and best self, how would you communicate your thoughts about the situation?

~ Identify Commonalities

  • Take turns sharing points of common goals, views

~ Identify and Agree to Next Steps

  • Where to from here?
  • Is the conflict resolved? If yes, confirm.
  • If not, each person proposes next steps: what, who, when; Formulate a next-steps-action-plan
  • Establish a communication plan and follow through


Whether in person or virtually via video, body language can play a key in forwarding communication.  Observing the non-verbals of others can provide additional data points to facilitate greater understanding towards resolving conflict.  What’s important is to not make assumptions about what’s observed.  Rather, take note and mention your observations (without applying assessments, judgements or conclusions) about what’s observed.  Being an active listener takes practice, an open mind, and a willingness to be wrong about what you’re observing.

At a deeper level, if you find yourself drawn to engaging in conflict you might ask yourself why.  What’s the draw for you?  You might continue to blame others, or you might investigate the underbelly of conflict.  In other words, what’s the payoff to you – what are you getting out of engaging in conflict or holding onto a conflictual situation?  It’s can be a humbling set of questions if taken seriously.

As a leader, you may find yourself needing to apply not just conflict resolution skills, but mediation skills… between team members, across the organization, with stakeholder groups, and others.  How do conflict resolution skills differ from mediation skills?  The main difference is your focus.  In the latter, you are viewed as a third-party, a neutral party outside the direct dispute who is capable of objectively parsing arguments and bridging communication to forward the resolution process.

Other tips for resolving conflict situations.