Informal Conflict Strategies

Trying To Solve Problems Yourself

Some problems can be resolved with some effort on your own. If you don't succeed, please feel free to contact the Ombuds Office for additional options or information. When you visit the Ombuds, they will explain the role of the office to you. The Ombuds will explain that the office keeps all information confidential and that the office helps you to find options to resolve your issues. The Ombuds may discuss both informal as well as more formal options that are available to you; however, should any party in a dispute choose a more formal option, at that point services with the Ombuds office will discontinue. The Ombuds office does not participate in formal options. It will be your decision to select the options that is best for you.

  • Don't be afraid to call university office for assistance
    • Your goal when asking for help and questions is to seek understanding and not to challenge.
  • Be prepared
    • Have questions written down
    • Bullet points of information that you are seeking to understand
    • Have documentation available that you can refer to to assist in your discussion
    • Read carefully all information available to you.
  • Ask yourself
    • What outcomes am I looking for?
    • Are there other options that would be acceptable as a second option?
  • Be pleasant and civil 
    • Treat others as you would like to be treated or spoken to (being rude or angry will not resolve the matter)
  • Keep good records and take notes
    • Ask for the names and titles of who you spoke with
    • Date of conversation
    • Save any letters, receipts, emails
    • Ask the office to explain and understand what occurred (question until you understand what happened and why)
    • Inquire about the rules, policies, and laws that govern their action/decision
  • Talk to the right individual
    • If you cannot resolve the concern/issue, ask to talk with their supervisor.
    • Many university decisions have an appeal process, but there are often specific criteria and deadlines.

(Adapted from “Before You Call” by Laurie McCann. University of California, Santa Cruz.)

Informal Conflict Resolution Strategies

1. Direct Communication

If the discussion seems to not be moving in the format your currently using try another format. An example may be if you call the other individual try email or a face-to-face meeting. If you have attempted to address the concerns by the conversation is going around in circles, try writing your thoughts in a letter or using a third-party to assist in facilitating.

2. Explaining the Impact

One way to increase the civility when approaching a difficult discussion is to use "I statements" rather than "You statements." Explain how you feel and what you want or need (or the impact) rather than interpreting, judging, or second guessing the other individual or individuals involved.

An example may be when you do not show up for work on time I feel....

Your goal is to state the facts of what the individual or individuals have done (or said or not done), and then move to your reaction and the impact their actions or behavior has on your relationship or the work. You close your statement and provide an opportunity for the other individual to respond. For example, if your reaction is to be withdrawn or resent the individual, they might acknowledge the reason or state the goal was to create more distance between you. On the other hand, they might realize an unintended consequence and begin to discuss of how to make changes and improve your relationship for the future.

3. Writing a Letter or Email (Even if you do not use it)

Putting your thoughts in written form can be helpful to clarify your own thoughts and control over how you communicate. It allows the other individual to read and reflect on the contents provided without needing to formulate an immediate response. Writing a letter may assist to identify priorities and what you want to emphasize when you talk directly to an individual. 

A letter or email should include:

  • The facts with no opinions. When you bring in emotions individuals become defensive and the emotion manges you.
  • What was the impact on you
  • What you think should happen next (constructive next steps or "ground rules" for the future)
  • If there is conflict over email consider using a BIFF Response (Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm)

(Adapted from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Ombuds Office)

A resource to assist/process:

Conflict Resolution Worksheet (Adapted with permission from The College of William & Mary)

Tips for Managing Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

    1. Identify your purpose and be clear about the issue. (What is the specific Behavior)
      • Tips: Ask yourself: “What exactly is the behavior that is causing the problem?” and "What impact is the behavior having on you, other colleagues, and your area?
        • Clearly understand this first so that you can articulate it succinctly in a few sentences.
    2. Prepare for the conversation and practice ahead of time. (Role Play)
    3. Plan meeting details.
      • Tips: Schedule at the end of week with advanced notice
        • Pick a private location
        • Hold 30 minutes or less; face to face or video call.
    4. During the conversation, use these One Minute Manager techniques to Connect, Focus, Activate, and Review.
    5. Follow-up and reinforce as appropriate.
      • Tips: People need to experience a 4:1 ratio of positive/encouraging interactions to challenging interactions in order to avoid feeling threatened or overly criticized.
      • Increase the amount of positive feedback and empowering conversations will:

        • Strengthen engagement

        • Promote psychological safety at work

        • Help avoid triggering a threat response

    6. More productive conversations can be had when people:

      • Genuinely listen in order to understand

      • Ask the right questions

      • Give feedback that challenges and supports

      • Establish accountability and next steps.

      • Better conversations are the key part of building a better organizational culture.

When addressing a concern:

  • Select the right tone
  • Start strong and be confident
  • Be respectful
  • Be open-minded and empathic
  • Manage time and emotions
  • Use specific language such as “difficult” or “concerned”, “important”
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • End with a clear review of the next steps and expectations
  • End positively regardless of the issue---"it takes a long time to build bridges with people and only minutes to destroy them!!!"

When addressing a concern don't:

  • Don’t use humor

  • Don't apologize or overly personalize

  • Don't allow inappropriate responses

  • Don't change your original purpose

  • Don't allow the conversation to wonder

(Adapted from the Center for Creative Leadership, 5 steps for tackling Difficult Conversations)

A resource to assist/process:

We have to talk

Steps to consider: Difficult conversations

Words to defuse a tough situation