Exploring the Highly Subtle Art of Conflict Resolution

January 13, 2022 • John Salustri

We all know that communication is a highly nuanced art. However, mastering that art becomes particularly critical when conflict resolution in the workplace is involved. In fact, according to Shannon Alter, a global communication expert and owner of Leaders Exceed, sixty to eighty percent of corporate issues are typically relationship based.

That’s why it’s necessary to get your messaging across as “clear as glass,” she says, while also stressing the importance of addressing the right problem. During her presentation at the 2021 BOMA International Conference & Expo held in Boston this past October, Alter mentioned that in order to properly defuse a conflict, it is crucial to know your audience and, unfortunately, 82% of us do not.

Awareness of the shortfalls in your conflict resolution style is, of course, halfway to correcting them and then by extension, to becoming an effective conflict arbiter. In addition to not understanding your audience, there are various other pitfalls that stand before the goal of resolution, such as: 

  • Answering the wrong problem;
  • Creating an issue when none exists; and
  • Getting stuck in the negatives.

To avoid such hurdles, managers are advised to prepare. Homework focused on the issue and the people involved are key, she says. “Look for root causes,” of the issue, Alter said, and avoid making it about people rather than the problem at hand. Anticipating questions is also an important step to providing your team with a sense of trust in your ability to handle the issue. Ditto a careful selection of the words you use.

Alter gave her audience some homework of their own. “Break your team into smaller groups,” she advised. Then ask, “What do you have in common with the other members of your group?” It’s an exercise that can preempt future conflict by simply underscoring the common purpose of the team members.  Attendees also were asked to list sources of potential conflict between one another. Needless to say, the list was a long one, ranging from fear of change to a lack of direction on the part of management. More than one audience member suggested that, while addressing the issue is important and quick action is key, sometimes that action involves allowing time to pass for the combatants to simmer down.

Alter and her audience agreed that every conflict is different, as are the combatants, each coming with their own points of view and backgrounds. Hence the need to know your audience and to understand the root causes. Allowing for those variables, three items persist: Respond as quickly as the situation dictates, empathize and remain aware of the personal nature of the conflict.


John Salustri is editor-in-chief of Salustri Content Solutions, a national editorial advisory firm based in East Northport, New York. He is best known as the founding editor of GlobeSt.com. Prior to launching GlobeSt.com, Salustri was editor of Real Estate Forum.