Does Conflict Resolution Really Work at Work?

A street sign at the intersection of Impossible and Possible with a background blue sky with some white clouds

Whenever two people are involved with anything, it is only natural to expect that at some point there may be different perspectives that could lead to conflict. This is only natural. We often think if I could make all of the decisions, the world would be a better place. Then we reflect and realize I don’t have all the answers. We need others and we need their ideas. This article focuses on different types of conflict resolution at work.


What are areas of possible conflict at work?


There are many potential areas for conflict at work. Here are just a few demonstrating a distinct possibility for having a conflict at work.

  • Professional differences of opinion
  • Technical differences of opinion
  • Negative gossip
  • Interpersonal differences
  • Cultural barriers
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of listening
  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of empathy
  • Client differences
  • Vendor differences
  • Stakeholder differences

We all know there are many opportunities for conflict at work with others. Now the question is what can we do about it that is preventative, proactive and positive? How can we do this even with difficult people. How can we avoid emotional and cognitive traps that can trip us up?


It’s all about me and my people


Fairness is a relative term. We tend to look out for number one. It’s all about my needs and my wants. This is natural tendency towards survival.

We tend to look at issues from our perspective first to the detriment of others.

Knowing this, step back and see if you might be part of the problem. We also need to reflect and see if our position might be based on some assumptions and limiting conditions. Perhaps we have more risks or downsides than we originally thought. It is not uncommon to develop group think and believe we are totally correct.


I’m sure I am right


After we look at things from our own self-serving perspective, we tend to focus on believing we are right and by default others must be wrong. We are very confident in ourselves and reinforce this again as a matter of survival. Unfortunately, this makes us overconfident.

In an analysis of 4,500 court cases and 9,000 settlements this study found that 61% of the plaintiffs and 21% of the defendants would have been better off if they had accepted the other side’s pre-trial settlement offers.

That means that 82% of the time if they had not gone to court and accepted the other side’s offer, they would have been better off.

In another study 83% of mergers and acquisitions failed to produce any benefits and over half actually reduced the value the companies.

So much for business being able to make the best decisions on mergers and acquisitions. The overconfidence of management being reinforced by their advisors has made so less than optimal decisions over time.

Supposedly some of the best minds are involved in formulating legal strategies as well as business mergers and acquisitions. The failure rate may indeed be demonstrating over confidence with respect to their decision making. These are facts. With these very intelligent minds having this type of success rate, what does that mean for the rest of us? What does this say about our decision making when involved with conflicts? Perhaps we need to step back no matter how confident we are about being right. Realizing we may be overconfident we may indeed need to pause, slow down, reflect, ask ourselves open ended questions and see if indeed we have some risks here.


What about sunk costs?


When involved with litigation we are often focused on recovering our legal costs. For one thing they can be substantial. On the other hand, they are indeed sunk costs.

The focus should be on what it will cost going forward and what is the amount and probability of success.

Similarly, how often in a conflict is the emotion tied to what happened previously, and that what we want is revenge for past misdeeds. Revenge is an emotion that can clearly negatively impact open minded decision making. This does not move us towards resolution or conflict resolution. Instead we need to step back realize where we are coming from and look to where we want to go in the future. What do we want to have happen should be the focus instead of looking at what happened.

So, what can we do?




There is so much to offer from this blog on the subject and from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation blog, that it is recommended you do some additional reading. However, by taking in The Collaboration Effect ®, focusing on the other party’s interest and those of your team, you may be able to have a successful negotiation. Ask open ended questions. Employ initiatives for connecting relationships, actively listening, judiciously educating, and negotiating closure. Know your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and explore theirs too. Use brainstorming techniques to determine what you might consider doing going forward.




Before going to litigation and for sure if entering into litigation consider mediation at the same time.

Mediation is the process where the parties come together to explore interests by each party presenting their perspective of the facts by issue.

The parties also gain a better understating of the emotion behind the issues of the other party. Confidential separate sessions with the parties known as a caucus can help the qualified neutral mediator to work with the parties as they formulate an appropriate solution. In the end if there is an agreement the mediator can craft the agreement and the parties sign their agreement going forward.

The skilled qualified mediator should have a background in the area, with skills, training and experience pertinent to the issues being discussed. The mediator should also discuss the various forms of mediation.

Realize there are three types of mediation. These are evaluative, facilitative and transformative. Explore not only the skills of the mediator, but also what technique may be most appropriate for you.




In arbitration a decision maker is brought in to hear both sides and make a decision.

This is very similar to litigation; however, it is completed outside of court.

The parties decide whether arbitration is binding or non-binding prior to arbitration. The parties can make specific rules with their arbitration regarding what rules and procedures will be followed during the process. The decision here is confidential. There is no public record of the decision. That can be an advantage to the parties.




In civil litigation the parties present their case to the trier of fact (either a judge or jury) in a public courtroom setting.

The rules of the applicable court and their process are followed. This is a matter of public record. Since it is a matter of public record, many participants would rather never proceed to court to have to share the results with the public. In this instance one of the earlier forms of conflict resolution may be selected. This process is dominated by the attorney’s rather than the participants.




In general, electing to use negotiation or mediation results in less costs, more timely closures and less pain for the parties. Litigation is generally most expensive and takes much longer.

Knowing this most prefer to elect negotiation or mediation ahead of litigation. By being proactive and obtaining conflict resolution or collaboration training it may be possible to avert conflicts in the first place. This can enhance the probability of better relationships, less wasted time addressing conflict and greater revenues and a better bottom line at work.


About the author


Mike Gregory is an expert on The Collaboration Effect ® and in application with the IRS, business to business, and within businesses. Mike is an international speaker and he has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions. Mike may be contacted directly at and at (651) 633-5311. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at 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]