Resolving Conflicts

hrioYou can use this information to improve your conflict management skills, and/or to teach your students or others. There are two exercises to apply the conflict resolution models and two questions to apply the theory to your own personal and/or work-school situation. This information is taken from my Human Relations in Organizations: Applications, and Skill Building 10e (Chapter 6), McGraw-Hill, 2017. If you share this information with others, please be sure to reference this source. In this blog, I discuss how to initiate, respond to, and mediate a conflict resolution using behavior models.

Initiating Conflict Resolution

An initiator is a person who confronts another person (or persons) in order to resolve conflict. Let’s face it—some people do things that annoy us. Your objectives should be to change the specific behavior, which may be your own, without hurting your relationship. The Model below is evidence-based (EBM), and can help you meet this objective. Here I present the steps in the model, followed by a discussion of each step.

Initiating Conflict Resolution Model

(1) State the problem in terms of behavior, consequences, and feelings (a BCF statement)

(2) Get the other party to acknowledge the problem or conflict

(3) Ask for and/or presenting alternative resolutions to the conflict

(4) Come to an agreement

Step 1. State the problem in terms of behaviors, consequences, and feelings (in a BCF statement). The BCF statement describes a conflict in terms of behaviors (B), consequences (C), and feelings (F) in a way that maintains ownership of the problem. What does “maintaining ownership of the problem” mean? Think about it: If you don’t smoke and a smoker lights a cigarette, who has the problem? Since the smoker enjoys it, the problem is yours. Maintaining ownership of the problem means being collaborative by expressing your BCF without:

* Judging the behavior as right or wrong. Do you like people judging you by telling you that you are wrong? Don’t make statements like, “You’re doing that the wrong way!” “You don’t know what you are talking about!”

* Telling the person what to do. Do you like people telling you what to do? Telling people what they should or shouldn’t do judges behavior, such as, “You should clean up after yourself!” “You shouldn’t smoke!”

* Assigning blame about who is right or wrong. Your behavior may be directly or indirectly contributing to the conflict (there are always two sides to every story). Do you like to be told you’re the problem? Don’t make statements like, “This is all your fault.”

* Threatening the other person. Do you like people threatening you? Don’t say, “If you do it again, I’m going to tell the boss on you.” Threats should be a last, not first, option.

* Starting with a solution. Notice that is Steps 3 and 4.

* Using inappropriate wording. Don’t say, “You never/always/constantly do it.” These statements lead to a discussion of frequency of the behavior, rather than focusing on changing behavior.

Do you like people to confront you by judging you, telling you what to do, blaming you for the conflict, or threatening you? These statements are not collaborative and only make people defensive and emotional, and you can end up arguing rather than resolving the conflict.

Don’t confront people because you don’t like their personality; you’re not going to change it. There really is no such thing as a personality conflict; it’s about “specific” things people do and say that bother you. So construct a short BCF statement. For example, “When you smoke around me (B), I have trouble breathing and become nauseous (C), and I feel ill and angry. (F).” Note that you can vary the sequence if the situation warrants it.

After planning your BCF statement, think of some possible solutions you might suggest in Step 3. Be sure your ideas take into consideration the other person’s point of view. Put yourself in his or her position—use empathy. If you were the other person, would you like the BCF and solutions you have thought of? And don’t be surprised if the other person comes up with things you do that bother him or her, and again you are collaborating, so you need to be open to changing.

Step 2. Get the other person to acknowledge the problem or conflict. After stating your BCF, let the other person respond. If the other person doesn’t understand or acknowledge the problem, repeat your statement in different terms, if necessary. Stay calm and don’t argue.

Step 3. Ask for and/or present alternative resolutions to the conflict. Next, ask the person how the conflict might be resolved. If he or she acknowledges the problem but seems unwilling to resolve it, appeal to common goals. Try to make the other person realize how he or she, the team, the department, or the company might also benefit from a solution to this conflict.

Step 4.Come to an agreement. Determine what specific actions you will each take to resolve the conflict. Perhaps the person will agree not to smoke in your presence now that he or she knows how it affects you. Clearly state whatever actions you each agree to.


1. Recall your most recent conflict resolution discussion. Did you start with a BCF type statement without judging, telling, assigning blame, threatening, starting with a solution, or using inappropriate wording? How could your conflict resolution discussion be improved?


1. Think of a conflict you currently face. Develop a BCF statement following the guidelines of maintaining ownership of the problem.

Responding to Conflict Resolution

In the role of responder, you have a responsibility to contribute to successful conflict resolution when someone confronts you with a problem. You should follow the steps in the Responding Conflict Resolution Model. Below are the steps of the model, followed by a discussion of the steps.

Responding Conflict Resolution Model

(1) Respond with your own BCF statement of the problem from the other person’s perception (a form of paraphrasing)

(2) Acknowledge the problem or conflict—apologize

(3) Ask for and/or present alternative resolutions to the conflict

(4) Come to an agreement

Step 1. Respond with your own BCF statement of the problem from the other person’s perception (a form of paraphrasing). There is a good chance that the initiator of the conflict is not following the guidelines to opening with a BCF statement. An important thing to remember is that if the person opens the conflict resolution by judging you, telling you what to do, blaming you for the conflict, or threatening you try to remain calm without becoming defensive and justifying your behavior. If the person is emotional, don’t tell them to do calm down because it doesn’t work; they may become even more emotional. Try to be empathetic and see things from their point of view. If you can restate the conflict in a BCF statement, the person will likely be open to resolving the conflict. The other person may even apologize to you for what they said to you.

Step 2. Acknowledge the problem or conflict–apologize. Even if you don’t agree with the person’s perception of your behavior, again don’t become defensive and justify your behavior—it only leads to arguing. It is very helpful to apologize for the behavior that is bothering the other person. Even if you don’t believe you are doing anything wrong, you can at least say, “I’m sorry my behavior (state it) bothers you.” Such an apology is not an agreement to having done anything wrong, but it will go a long way to maintaining or improving your relationship with the other person.

Step 3. Ask for and/or present alternative resolutions to the conflict. Sometimes we do things that bothers others without realizing it. In such a case, there is a simple solution, such as in the exercise below.

Step 4. Come to an agreement. Sometimes there is a simple solution, but things can be complex. It is also important to state the change of behavior that is agreed to because if a person is not willing to say they will do or stop doing something, there is a good chance that they will not change the behavior. And if they don’t change, you can remind them that they did agree to change.


2. Recall the most recent time someone (significant other, friend, coworker) confronted you with a conflict. Did you remain calm and in control of your emotions without defending your behavior. Or did you get into an argument that didn’t resolve the conflict and hurt the relationship? Did you respond with a BCF type statement without judging, telling, assigning blame, threatening, or using inappropriate wording? How can you improve how you respond to conflict resolution?


2. Chris is a coworker, or roommate, etc. Assume that you like to tap your finger. Chris hasn’t said anything about your tapping. But one day YELLS, “You never stop tapping. You’re so inconsiderate and annoying. You shouldn’t tap your finger. If you don’t stop tapping, there will be consequences.” A. Assess how Chris presented the statement based on the BCF guidelines. B. How would you respond to Chris? Write a BCF statement in response. At the end of this blog are possible answers.

Mediating Conflict Resolution

Frequently, parties in conflict cannot resolve their dispute alone. In these cases, a mediator may be used. A mediator is a neutral third party who helps resolve a conflict. As a manager or leader, you may be called upon to serve as a mediator between two or more people. In this case, remember that you should be a mediator, not a judge. Get the people to resolve the conflict themselves, if possible. Remain impartial unless one party is violating company policies, and follow the Mediating Conflict Model. I’m not getting into as much detail regarding how to mediate a conflict because unlike initiating and responding to conflict, it is not as commonly used, and the steps speak for themselves.

Mediating Conflict Resolution Model

(1) Bring conflicting parties together and help them resolve conflict by coaching them as you follow the steps in the model. Remain neutral, focuses on how the conflict is affecting work

(2) Have each person make a BCF statement that clearly states the behavior that bothers them

(3) Come to an agreement and have each person agree to change the behavior that bothers the other person

(4) Follow-up to make sure that each person changes the behavior agreed to as a resolution to the conflict

Have you ever heard anyone say, “We have a personality conflict?” What is a personality conflict? I don’t think there is such a thing. The conflict may be based on personality traits, but it’s the specific behavior that causes the conflict—that is where the focus should be. Discuss the issues by addressing specific behavior, not personalities. If a person says, “We cannot work together because of a personality conflict,” ask him or her to identify the specific behavior that is the root of the conflict. The discussion should make the employees aware of their behavior and of how its consequences are causing the conflict—BCF statements.

If the conflict cannot be resolved by mediation, an arbitrator may be used as a follow-up. An arbitrator is a neutral third party who resolves a conflict by making a binding decision.The arbitrator is like a judge whose decision must be followed. However, the use of arbitration should be kept to a minimum because it is not a collaborative-conflict style.

This is the end of the content of this blog. When you are faced with a negotiation, you are commonly in disagreement and opposition—conflict. So my next blog will discuss how to negotiate.


A. Assess how Chris presented the statement based on the BCF guidelines. Chris has used inappropriate wording, judged your behavior of tapping, told you what to do, threatened you, and started with a solution. Not saying anything for some time and then blowing up is called passive-aggressive behavior, which is the result of not initiating a conflict resolution early-resulting in emotionally charged statements (often yelling) that one often regrets after the blowup.

B. How would you respond to Chris? Write a BCF statement in response. Chris, (B) when I tap my fingers, (C) it annoys you, and (F) you are upset about it. [let Chris respond]. For steps 2-4, depending on how Chris responds to the BCF, I would say something like the following to get Chris to calm down, to resolve the conflict, and to maintain the relationship: “I didn’t realize that my tapping bothered you. I’m sorry my tapping annoyed you and I will try not to tap in the future. If I tap without realizing, just let me know and I will stop.”


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