Communication and Conflict

🕑 4 minutes read | Nov 01 2022 | By Craig Gerdes, TTA Learning Consultant

Conflict is a normal and healthy part of any workplace environment. The most common cause of conflict is a breakdown in communication or a lack of communication among team members. The words we choose, our facial expressions, the tone of our voice, body language clues, as well as assumptions or paradigms can all be barriers to effective communication, which could ultimately lead to conflict within the workplace

How Can Communication Resolve Conflict?

Here are a few communication strategies tha can be helpful in resolving conflict in the workplace:

  1. Active listening means that we try to understand things from the speaker’s point of view. It includes letting the speaker know that we are listening and that we have understood what was said. This is not the same as hearing, which is a physical process, where sound enters the eardrum and messages are passed to the brain. Active listening can be described as an attitude that leads to listening for shared understanding.
  2. Paraphrasing is an essential skill in conflict resolution. It means restating (in your own words) what you heard back to the person you are speaking with. Paraphrasing can help you ensure that you’re hearing the other person and make sure the other person feels heard.
  3. Asking good questions is an important skill to have. There are two basic types of questions.
    • Closed questions can be answered with a single word or two, or a simple yes or no. They can begin the closing process in a conversation, or confirm detail, but they don’t usually lead to gathering more information, which is necessary for resolving conflicts.
    • Open questions encourage the listener to explain, to tell how they feel about an issue, or to offer suggestions. Open questions typically begin with a variation of the five W’s (who, what, when, where, and why) or ask how.
  4. Probing techniques can help you draw out information from the individual and help you understand their side of the conflict. You can use several options, usually in combination, to probe for more information effectively and thoughtfully.
    • First, always ask an open question, such as: “Can you describe that more clearly?” or “Would you give me a specific example of what you mean?” or “What do you think we should do?”
    • A second, very effective, way of probing, is to pause. Stop talking. Let the other person fill the silence.
    • A third thing to do is to ask reflective or mirroring questions. The reflective question usually provides you with an expanded answer without you needing to ask more questions. Reflective questions or statements focus on clarifying and summarizing without interrupting the flow of the conversation. They indicate your intent to understand the sender’s thoughts and feelings.
    • A fourth method (as mentioned earlier) is to paraphrase. It is particularly useful to make sure you are clear about what the other person has said by repeating it in your own words.
    • The last approach, most often used as a conversation is winding down, is the summary statement and/or question. This summarizes everything the other person has said and then confirms understanding.
  5. Body language is so important to communication and conflict. It is often believed that only 7% of our message is communicated by words, 38% is communicated by the tone of voice, and 55% is communicated by body language. There are several things to think about in this area.
    • Facial expressions need to be pleasant, or at least neutral. The face should be relaxed instead of tense to convey that you are comfortable with your role in encouraging and supporting the conversation.
    • Smiles are always welcome and help people to relax. When we are tense, however, our smiles can look like grimaces. Practice smiling in a mirror and get comfortable with offering more smiles. This shows that you like what you are doing and that you enjoy the process underway, as opposed to demonstrating that you see the conversation as a dreaded task.
    • When you speak with people, your eye contact needs to be steady and confident. Don’t stare people down but do look at them. While there are cultural aspects to eye contact, you should still look at people so that they see you are being genuine and honest.
    • Your body language needs to be welcoming, confident, and comfortable. Even if we are incredibly busy, our body language should show that we are interested and focused on this conversation with this person at this time. Leaning into the conversation, avoiding distractions such as phone calls or people at the door, and controlling nervousness, all convey positive messages through our body language.

Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

  • Decide to listen. Close your mind to clutter and noise and look at the person speaking with you. Give them your undivided attention.
  • Don’t interrupt people. Make it a habit to let them finish what they are saying. Respect that they have thoughts they are processing and speaking about, and wait to ask questions or make comments until they have finished.
  • Keep your eyes focused on the speaker and your ears tuned to their voice. Don’t let your eyes wander around the room, just in case your attention does too.
  • Ask a few questions throughout the conversation. When you ask, people will know that you are listening to them and that you are interested in what they have to say. Your ability to summarize and paraphrase will also demonstrate that you heard them.
  • When you demonstrate good listening skills, they tend to be infectious. If you want people to communicate well, you must set a high example.


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