North campus with comet descending in the night sky

General Conflict Resolution Tips

Suggestions to help coach you through conflict situations, and brainstorm appropriate solutions.

Set and manage expectations.

By developing thoughtful and accommodating rules of engagement, codes of conduct, or a set of norms to guide our interactions, we lay the foundation for accountability.

 Set expectations for respect, for communication, for shared responsibilities. Are there people in your department who believe the rules are not applicable to them? Explain why it is difficult to fulfill the mission of your department, and the college if the rules only apply to some. As a corollary, collectively develop appropriate sanctions agreed upon by all for any violations of your rules. When one steps outside of the expected behavior it has unintended consequences that can be damaging to the whole. It is important to clearly define acceptable behavior and determine what can or cannot be tolerated.

Communicate clearly and effectively.

Frequency and brevity are key. Begin your day or meetings with brief established check-ins. Remember, communication is about what they hear not what you say. As much as is possible, strive to communicate lengthy discussions, sensitive matters or difficult conversations by telephone rather than by email. To minimize misunderstandings:

  • Adopt an email protocol – agree in your department what is appropriate for email communication
  • Change the subject line when discussing a new subject in your email
  • Copy others judiciously on electronic communication
  • Include an email signature line with your contact information for ease of response
  • Establish a preferred method of communication (e.g., email vs phone calls vs texts)
  • Keep your calendars updated so people know when you are sick, out of the office, on  vacation, in meetings, etc.

Lean into our values.

Our Grinnell College values of social responsibility, mutual respect and equitable treatment towards all persons are key values we should all model and expect daily. It is important to understand that free speech is not synonymous with rudeness, or incivility.

We seek to promote a culture where conversation is respectful and advocacy for one’s beliefs is done appropriately. In your arguments, put aside the certainty of your own convictions, suspend judgment, and frame the beginning of every conversation as an opportunity to learn. Explore useful ways to shift from “that’s wrong” to “tell me more”

Take action to address issues immediately to avoid escalating tensions.

Do not let problems fester. It is tempting to avoid or postpone a difficult conversation, especially one that involves accountability. When an expectation has been violated, an obligation left unfulfilled, or a mistake made, communicate directly, and with empathy with the persons responsible. If you are not comfortable giving feedback, ask for help, and be open to receiving feedback. We all have blind spots. Bottom up is as important as top down feedback.  

Listen deeply.

Listen to understand rather than to formulate your response. Listen carefully to hear both what is communicated and what is left unsaid. In most conflicts, people are not listening. We have our own agenda, we are simply waiting to stress our own points and advocate our perspective. We should not assume that we know everything we need to know. We should assume that there is important information we do not have access to. To communicate effectively in an argument, it is important to understand the other persons story well enough to see how their conclusions make sense within it, and we need to help them understand the story in which our own conclusions make sense.

Accept responsibility and admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake.

People in conflict see things in a different light, reasonable minds will differ and each side believes in the merit of their own point of view. Never underestimate the power of a good apology. If called for, an apology is a good way to have the last word. “I am sorry you feel that way” is not an apology. A good apology contains an acknowledgement or recognition of the harm that was done. “I am sorry for the pain this must have caused you......”

Understand your conflict style under stress.

We all have different conflict styles. The best first step at minimizing conflict is simply accepting the fact that another's style is not an attempt to defy or make life difficult but, an expression of the way that individual communicates. Be careful with your words.

Manage your emotions.

Recognize that conflict is a normal part of our everyday lives. As such, conflict is neither good nor bad, it just is. Acknowledge that you will experience conflict in your work with others and focus on constructive ways to address conflict situations. Silence or avoidance should not be your default in difficult situations. Listen for tension in yourself, manage your emotions and help others manage their own emotions. In dealing with a disagreement focus on the behavior rather than on the person.

Create an inclusive environment.

Ensure that those who are significantly impacted by important decisions you make are part of the conversation. Understand how the decision will affect them. Prioritize relationships both personal and professional, and keep the personal issues from damaging professional relationships.

Adopt the Platinum Rule.

Treat others as they would like to be treated, respect and honor the inherent dignity of everyone you interact with.

We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.