Steps for Dealing with Habitual Conflict

The following is the second part of a two-part interview with Alan Collins, Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and former Vice President of Human Resources for PepsiCo.  You can view the first part of the interview by clicking here.

What steps would you take to help employees who are dealing with habitual conflict?

I would offer the following tips:

  1. Identify what the “real” conflict is. Which of the four types of conflicts is it?  Is it a conflict over expectations?  Or roles? Or resources? Or styles?  It is critical to get at the root cause.  By identifying the real source of the problem, you’ll have better chance of resolving it.
  2. Listen to the other person’s point of view. Listen, listen, listen.  And after you finished listening, make sure you listen some more. By hearing out the other party, you can make sure that, in fact, your point of view is valid.   But maybe the other person has a valid point and you are the one that needs to change the way the conflict is being managed.
  3. Don’t make it personal. Avoid personal attacks. Be respectful in expressing your point of view.  You don’t have to shy away from stating your opinions or perspectives. But do it intelligently and non-defensively.  Don’t let your emotions get in the way or you will take the risk of looking like a complainer.
  4. Try to find common ground. Explore options for resolving the conflict.  Together brainstorm ways to address the issue or to create a better solution to the problem at hand. By showing a willingness to compromise, you show all the parties involved in the issue that you do care about their opinions and that all you want is to address the conflict.  Don’t have an “I want to win” attitude. It’s better to approach the conflict with an open mind.

Please feel free to add anything else that you would like to add about this topic.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Anytime you throw together a group of high powered people with strong personalities, differences of opinion are bound to surface.

But, not all conflict is bad.  Conflict, when constructively managed is healthy, beneficial and productive for the organization.

Differences of opinion encourage creativity, change and progress. I seriously doubt if innovations like the ipad, PC or the automobile could have been created without lots and lots of conflict.

Philosophically, I believe every conflict we face in our lives can serve as a learning experience. It’s important to take advantage of those moments to learn something new and to open yourself to new ideas. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a pushover and not fight for what you think is right.

But rather it means that it’s important to use conflict situations as an opportunity to show that you respect other people’s ideas and are willing to listen and learn from them.

Finally, once you’ve resolved a conflict and you’ve learned from it, then it’s time to move on.

Don’t let ill feeling fester or hold grudges.

Life’s too short.

Alan Collins

About the Author: Alan Collins was Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.   He is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of the two HR best sellers, UNWRITTEN HR RULES and BEST KEPT HR SECRETS.  More of his articles and insights can be accessed at

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