Resolve a personal conflict

Virtual First | Communication Kit

If you work with other human beings who aren’t exactly like yourself, chances are you occasionally run into conflict. Unacknowledged squabbles tend to get worse, especially when we’re not face-to-face—but addressing them skillfully can be a source of enormous growth for everyone involved. Use this discussion to build your conflict competence and solve problems more efficiently.

60 MINS | 1:1 CONVERSATION

Step 1: Ask yourself, “Is it worth a conversation?”

Not all conflicts are created equal. Before you discuss, try to take a step back. If you’re just a little annoyed, it might be best to let things slide, but if the conflict is truly disruptive, it probably warrants a 1:1 discussion. Use the conflict scorecard below to get better sense. If your conflict feels discussion-worthy, move onto step 2. If you’re not sure, try coming back to it in a day or two. Does it still feel important?
Conflict scorecard

Let it slide or talk it out?

Fill out this scorecard to discover how discussion-worthy your problem is.

Conflict scorecard

Step 2: Clarify the conflict

Before you discuss, it’s good to pause and articulate your situation in an objective, honest way. Use the conflict worksheet below to outline what you noticed, how it impacted your work, and what you’d like to have happen instead. This will ground your conversation and help you resolve the conflict more quickly.
Conflict worksheet

Name it so you can tame it.

Use the worksheet to clarify your conflict. Curious how you might be contributing? Try our conflict styles quiz.

Step 3: Invite a conversation

When you’re ready to talk, schedule a time that works for you both. Try to do this 1:1 first, before pulling in anyone else. (We like the idea that “feedback should travel the shortest distance between two points”—it’ll help you avoid a drama triangle.) In your invite, see if you can acknowledge the conflict using more “I” statements than “you” statements. Bonus points for a non-judgmental, light tone. For example, “I noticed myself getting flustered in our last meeting. Got time to talk about it?”

Step 4: Hash things out

At the start of your meeting, summarize your points from the conflict worksheet above. Then pause while your partner responds. Not everyone has a black belt in conflict resolution, so it’s natural for this part to feel awkward. As you listen, reflect:

  • Did you have different expectations about how things should go? 
  • Were you working toward different goals?
  • Were they aware of the behavior you noticed, or was it a “blind spot”?
  • Did you contribute to the conflict in some way? 

Step 5: Decide on next steps

Sometimes, simply acknowledging a problem diffuses it. Other times, you need a follow-up. Some ideas: 

If the conversation goes sideways or you can’t get to a resolution, take a day to reflect. Would it help to talk with a coach or manager? If you find you’ve contributed to the conflict in some way, remember: the words “I’m sorry” are magic.

Extra Credit: Complicate your story

Telling ourselves over-simplified stories about other people’s behavior can have a hugely negative impact on our perceptions and moods. Learning to notice the story we’re telling ourselves—and experiment with alternative ones—can help us get a wiser, more balanced view. Use the Simple story worksheet to get started. 

Simple story worksheet

More resources

3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow. Notice how you’re feeling throughout the day.
  • Next week: Feeling tension with someone? What are you needing?
  • Quarterly: Pick one discussion-worthy conflict to work through.