10 Principles of Ethical Conflict Resolution

Monk carved into hole in a tree

Dispute resolution using mediation techniques can help resolve many conflicts at work, in court, and in life. This article explores 10 ethical principles that can be applied in conflict resolution as an alternative to save mental and physical toil, time, money, and resources. Applying these techniques may make a major difference for you when you may become engaged in a conflict with another party.

When you are involved in a conflict or when you see others involved in a conflict that you may be involved with too, it is important to step back. Calm yourself. One way to help calm yourself is with mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation, prayer, reflection, or yoga in as little as 21 days can help you lower blood pressure and be able to reduce your stress.  

By focusing on de-escalation up front this will allow you to be emotionally engaged with an attitude to be competent and compassionate as you explore where the other party is coming from. This is key to ethical conflict resolution.  With that in mine here are ten ethical principles to help you with your dispute. For further ethics reading I recommend 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership by Linda Fisher Thornton.

1. Lead with a moral compass

Character matters. Being upstanding and of good character make a difference. This is why it is suggested that you hire for character and train for competency. People that want to do the right thing, do what it takes, and have fun along the way, have an attitude that makes for a positive environment and a real difference. Being authentic, true to yourself, and true to your values with consistent application says a lot about you.

2. Lead in ways that bring out the best in others

Bring out the best in others. All too often in a conflict or dispute being antagonistic and in a fighting spirit only entrenches positions. Unfortunately, in our society computer games, movies, and other social media tend to exploit revenge and antagonism as a viable alternative. Knowing this, it is especially important to emphasize the opposite with calm, caring, and concern. Antagonism also reduces listening and closes the mind to understanding. By taking an approach to bring the best out of the other side will certainly help your situation. Check your assumptions. Be curious. Suspend judgment. Ask questions to help the other side to open their mind to other ways of approaching the problem.

3. Lead with positive intent and impact

Attitude matters. When you lead with positive intent this can be received by others as helping. It shows an interest in trying to work together. Your coming with a positive attitude may help diffuse the situation and help move the parties move towards a more neutral perspective. This may very well enhance listening by the other party. By having a positive intent and staying focused on the task at hand this will help the other party take ownership of the issue, be accountable, and be responsible.

4. Lead for the greater good

Be a leader for the greater good. What may happen positively as a result of the parties working together for the greater good? Is it possible there are additional interests that have not even been considered or explored considering other stakeholders, additional contracts, long term implications, or other points of view? Focus on not just the impact on you or them, but additional benefits beyond just the two of you.

5. Stay competent

Since we are 98% emotional and 2% rational, focus on the problem. Be aware of your and their emotions. Avoid being tempted into negative emotions that take you away from the reason you are there. For example, in a divorce with child custody as an area of concern, keeping the parties focused on the best interests of the children can help avoid drama, and keep the parties working together in what otherwise may be a very contentious discussion.

6. Model what you expect

You know how you would like to proceed given your interests. How would you like the other party to interact with you. Model what you want. Be conscious of your triggers. When you feel anger starting to surge, apply de-escalation techniques. In other words if you need to take a break. Walk away with a time out.  Continue to model positive, professional behavior.

7. Build Trust

Building trust especially when it has been lost is difficult. Apologizing, and honestly trying to pick up new from today may not be fully accepted. This takes time. Actions speak louder than words. Focus on being straightforward with honesty and integrity. Be open and transparent with what you can share. Accept the other party without blame. Be responsible. Do what you say you are going to do timely.

8. Work towards mutually beneficial solutions

Explore interests with open ended questions asking the other party what they want to have happen? What would it take for them to feel satisfied? What can you do to help them?  What are other concerns that need to be addressed. Knowing your own interests work with the other side to find amicable solutions that both sides can live with going forward.

9. Do good without harm

Do no harm. Do not do anything that will harm others directly or indirectly. Consider economic, social, and environmental impacts. Evaluate different impacts to maximize benefits and minimize pain. Above all, do not harm others.  Pause and reflect on any possible solutions to make sure you have addressed these concerns.

10. Improve our global society planet

In addition, in today’s world you have even greater concerns. Consider your impact on our society, global society, and our planet. This is increasingly a more significant issue. Historically, this may not even have been brought up as a concern. Today it is. Explore your needs and interests. In addition, explore the needs and interests of the other party. After that step back and take a look at the needs and interests of our global society and planet to make sure you are considering those concerns too.


In conclusion, consider all ten principles when you are involved with a conflict or if you are helping mediate between two parties in a conflict. Consider and discuss these points before hand. Practice what you may say or do in the dispute with anticipated interactions ahead of time. Consider bringing on board a mentor or trusted third party to help you sort out these principles with your conflict. Keep this list handy. Reflecting on this list may help you diffuse the situation and possibly work with you to help reconcile the conflict in an amicable manner. Good luck. If you want to share any ideas or concerns with me, I welcome your thoughts. Please reach back to me and let me know what you think.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]