Resolving Conflict-It’s Not about Winning

“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” —Ronald Reagan

By Elizabeth Stincelli, DM

What Causes Conflict and How Do We Resolve It?

Conflict is the mental struggle that arises when our ideas, needs, wishes, or demands are in opposition to those of others. Conflict is inevitable when you bring people together from different beliefs and backgrounds. When we spend time in conflict with each other we are wasting energy and destroying any sense of camaraderie. Conflict does not resolve itself and only escalates if not addressed. Unresolved conflict can result in the loss of productivity, cooperation, collaboration, and creativity. Let’s look a little deeper at some of the factors that cause conflict and how we can resolve them.

Cognitive bias

Cognitive biases are thinking errors that impact how we interpret the world around us. These biases often occur when we try to over-simplify how we process information. Biases cause irrational thinking and affect our ability to make sound decisions.

Biases can influence in simple ways such allowing the way you currently feel to color the way you interpret the world around you. They can permit your judgment to become dependent on previously provided evidence with little regard for new evidence. You may have the tendency to listen only to information that confirms your preconceived beliefs or to interpret information in a way that confirms these beliefs. Your expectations could be unconsciously influencing how you perceive the outcome of interactions. It is also easy to let ourselves get caught up in group think and adopt the beliefs of others without proper evaluation.

When we experience a cognitive bias it impairs our ability to rationally interpret information and experiences. It is easy to fail to recognize and compensate for our own biases. We must be aware of these biases and how they impact our thinking in order to prevent and resolve the conflict they may cause.


Conflict often arises when we assume all parties are talking about the same thing. Often we find that each participant to a conversation has their own definitions and meanings which are not in agreement with each other. In order to eliminate ambiguity we must come to the same understanding, with the same definitions and meanings by asking open-ended questions which you do not have preconceived answers for. Listen with the intent of gaining an understanding of how other parties perceive the situation.

Many times conflict involves the perception we have of the role we play in a group differing from how others see it. Conflict becomes more likely when we are operating under different assumptions about our roles and responsibilities than those we work with. Clear, written communication can be effective at keeping ambiguity to a minimum. Make sure you know what the conflict you are experiencing is really about. Work together to assign clear roles, define reality, and eliminate ambiguity.


The most successful approach to resolving conflict is open, two-way communication. In order to communicate effectively you must learn to listen without passing judgment. Each party to the communication will apply their own definitions and meanings; therefore, you can’t just listen to the facts. You have to ask probing questions and come to a consensus on the definition and meaning of the facts. Also, don’t just listen to others to figure out how you can get them to agree with your point of view. Listen to really understand and appreciate their reality so you can understand where they are coming from.

Be clear and consistent with communication from the very beginning of the relationship. Ask questions and keep an open mind. Talk through and test the feasibility of proposed solutions together. Prepare in advance for difficult conversations. Define how you see the problem. What points do you think are important? Come prepared to propose possible solutions. Make sure your message is clear and concise. When working to resolve conflict, watch the tone and language that you use and keep your emotions out of the discussion. Be an active listener and show yourself to be transparent and trustworthy. Focus on mending relationships before turning your focus to tasks. 

Spanning boundaries

To resolve conflict we must learn to build bridges between management, employees, suppliers, and customers. We must develop strong relationships between people with differing beliefs, experience, and knowledge. By clarifying the role that each individual plays and the purpose of the team you can capitalize on the power that individual differences bring to the table.

Establish commonality by creating a shared vision, building trust, and coming together to achieve a higher purpose. Co-create something greater than could be achieved individually by combining a shared vision and strategy with the expertise, resources, and experiences of each individual. Span boundaries by accepting and appreciating the diversity that builds a great team.  

It’s Not about Winning

Conflict is inevitable. It’s usually rooted in poor communication and the inability to control our emotions. When working to resolve conflict, listen with the intent of developing a connection, not to merely respond. Don’t communicate with the goal of getting the other person to agree with your point of view; communicate to bring differing points of view together to co-create something that is new.

When dealing with conflict, keep your emotions in check and maintain moral high ground. You do not have the power to change others so you may have to look at ways you can change your approach to managing relationships to avoid and resolve conflict. Conflict can be about bringing differing opinions together and co-creating something fantastic. Don’t think of resolving conflict in terms of winning. It’s not about seeking to defeat an enemy but about finding common ground for cooperation, compromise, and collaboration.  

© 2014 Elizabeth Stincelli

Elizabeth Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the CEO of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations engage employees and improve organizational culture. Elizabeth holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership.

Learn more about Elizabeth by visiting her website, and connect with her on Twitter @infinitestin, Google+, and LinkedIn. You can contact her by email at


Author: lizstincelli

I am Liz Stincelli and I am passionate about recognizing, inspiring, and igniting the leader in each of us. I am the Founder of Stincelli Advisors where I specialize in helping management teams learn new ways of looking at problems and finding new approaches to discovering solutions. I hold a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership. I offer 20+ years of pro-active operations management, problem-solving, team-building, human resources, accounting, and business administration experience in a variety of industries. I serve on the Editorial Review Board for the Independent Journal of Management and Production and the Journal of Managerial Psychology. I have also been a guest lecturer at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business Westminster College. You can learn more about me by reading my blog here at: or Connect with me on Twitter @infinitestin, on Google+, and on LinkedIn. You can contact me by email at

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