Conflict resolution


4 Steps to Resolving Conflicts with Employees, Customers and Others

Most of us would rather avoid conflict with others whenever possible. However, there are times in our work lives when we find ourselves at odds with a customer, a fellow employee or our higher ups. If we’re not careful, tensions can escalate and we end up in a no-win situation. 

To avoid this, it may be best to step back, take a deep breath and try some of these tactics: 

  1. Listen carefully to the other person before responding. It’s normal to want to state your position and counter what you believe to be the other person’s false perceptions. However, it’s best to avoid interrupting so you can concentrate on truly understanding what they are saying. This gives them the opportunity to vent their feelings, and you may pick up some details that cast a new light on the conflict. 

  1. After you hear the whole story, state the key points of concern back to the person to confirm that you have an accurate picture. Then ask questions to clarify both the facts of the situation and how it makes the person feel. 

  1. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings. Once you both agree on the nature of the conflict, let the person know that you appreciate how they feel. Sometimes the root of the conflict has more to do with feelings than actual events. For example, a customer may feel they are being taken advantage of. An employee may feel undervalued. A supervisor may feel that their authority is not respected. Discovering these underlying feelings may help you address the facts of the conflict more successfully. 

  1. Discuss how to move forward. Now that you understand the other person’s point of view, you can determine if their concerns are valid, or if they are laboring under a misconception.


  • A customer who feels they aren’t getting the attention they deserve may believe they have a legitimate concern ­even though you think otherwise. Ask what you can do to make them feel as valued as you assure them they are.

  • In the same way, find out why an employee feels they are treated unfairly. You may need to review company policies and prove to them that workplace rules apply to everyone equally.

  • If a supervisor feels disrespected, assure them that while you acknowledge their position, you are entitled to your opinions, and would like to establish an acceptable way to present them.


If all else fails, agree to disagree. Some people simply will not let go of an issue, despite your best efforts to resolve the conflict. You may not be able to reason with a customer who makes absurd demands, an employee who doesn’t respect the rules or a supervisor who abuses their authority. In these cases, the best you can do is explain that while you understand their position, you simply cannot agree with them. If the individual refuses to accept this, it may mean losing a customer, disciplining or terminating an employee, or going over the supervisor’s head, so carefully consider the potential outcomes before taking a stand.