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Time doesn’t heal all wounds.

I’ll be the first to admit I used to hate conflict.

I’d avoid it at all costs, hoping tensions would just magically dissolve on their own. As a young manager, I’d see the warning signs—negative energy, snippy comments, eye rolls, heated emails—but I’d convince myself it wasn’t that bad.

Spoiler alert: it almost always was.

In fact, one of my biggest regrets is not addressing conflict sooner. I learned the hard way that when you let things fester, it’s like an untreated cancer within the organization—it only gets worse.

This is true when you are in conflict with someone else, but it’s also true when you’re managing two people who are in conflict with each other. In either case, not addressing the conflict will turn small annoyances into full-blown animosity.

But over the years, through many trials and errors, I’ve discovered how to spot unhealthy conflict and nip it in the bud before it hijacks the team. I’ve honed a 9-step playbook that’s helped me transform tension into trust. And today, I’m sharing that playbook with you. 

Here’s how to resolve conflict in the workplace like a pro:

1. Instill the ‘No Ego’ rule

Leadership is not about you or any one person. It’s about finding the best path forward for the company. Period.

As the leader, it’s your job to encourage a culture where it’s not about who’s right but what’s right. When people sense the playing field isn’t level, unhealthy conflict will rear its ugly head. 

So, you need to create an environment where the team focuses on facts and ideas rather than personal agendas or politics. And this starts with you. Resist the urge to pull rank or shut down a conversation just because you can. Instead, invite challengers and make space for healthy disagreement. Show that you’re more interested in getting to the truth than being right.

When you lead with humility and open-mindedness, you set the tone for constructive dialogue rather than destructive power plays. 

2. Don’t let it fester

Even in the healthiest teams, conflict can go from constructive to unhealthy rather quickly if two people really dig in. If you see this happening, your job is to address it immediately before it has a chance to accelerate. 

Now, I’m not saying to jump in at the first hint of disagreement. Respectful debate and differing opinions are fine and should be encouraged. But when you sense resentment building or hear personal attacks and trash-talking, it’s time to step up. 

Normalize calling out unhealthy conflict in the moment, even if it feels awkward at first. A simple, “Hey, let’s focus on the problem we’re trying to solve, not each other” can stop negativity from spiraling. The more you do it, the less you’ll need to over time. The team will start self-correcting.

Remember: the longer you wait to intervene, the harder it will be to resolve. 

3. Let people feel heard

In the heat of conflict, we often jump straight to solutions. We want to fix the problem and move on as quickly as possible—but you should do the opposite. 

It’s imperative to hear each person out. When people feel genuinely heard, they’re much more likely to soften their stance and collaborate on solutions. 

If you short-circuit the listening process and leap to action too soon, the same conflict will almost certainly reappear later. Just think of a time when you were really frustrated at something. If someone cut you off too soon without trying to understand your position, you’d be thinking, “Well, F-you then” in your head. 

So, how do you do this in practice? First, create space for each party to share their perspective without interruption. Encourage them to paint the full picture of how they see the situation. And remind them that we are all here to drive the best results for the company. Things can get personal; that’s human nature, but we should try our best not to make business overly personal. 

As they share, resist the temptation to mentally formulate your response or rebuttal. Instead, just focus on active listening. Make eye contact, nod, and use non-verbal cues to show you’re fully present.

Ask open-ended questions to clarify their view:

  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “What makes this important to you?”
  • “How did that part make you feel?”

Then, reflect back on what you’ve heard to confirm you’ve captured their message accurately:

  • “It sounds like ______ is a key concern for you.”
  • “What I’m hearing is ______. Is that right?”

This mirroring process makes people feel understood. It also helps untangle any miscommunications or incorrect assumptions that may be fueling the fire. 

Only after both sides feel fully expressed should you turn the conversation toward problem-solving. You can say something like:

  • “Given your perspective that ______, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how best to move forward together.”

This gives them the floor first. If they don’t have a proposed solution, you can offer one. If they do, you can discuss that solution together and help shape it into something mutually agreeable. 

4. Put yourself in their shoes

Empathy is the hot word in business these days, and for good reason. Simply “putting yourself in their shoes” is a game-changer for navigating conflict. But this tends to be very difficult for most people. You need to work at it over time. 

So, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What might motivate their actions? Are they seeing something I’m not seeing? Are they feeling overlooked, micromanaged, or underappreciated? Is there a personal issue outside of work that could be impacting them?

A work conflict is often a symptom of a more profound need not being met. But it’s easy to miss if you take things at face value. Putting on your detective hat to understand the “why” behind the “what” makes conflict less emotional and more scientific. 

Understanding their perspective doesn’t mean you need to agree with the person. But it goes a long way in finding a resolution that works for everyone.

5. Be the objective voice

Workplace conflict has a funny way of turning even the most rational people into riled-up toddlers. When emotions are running hot, your job as the leader is to be the calming voice of reason. 

To do this, insist on focusing the conversation on facts and data, not feelings and opinions. Ask questions like, “What evidence supports that?” or “How do we know that’s true?” This helps people pause and think objectively.

When you hear blanket statements or generalizations, ask for specific examples. Drill down into the details. You’ll often find that perceived slights or missteps are misunderstandings that can be cleared up with better communication.

Remind the team that, ultimately, you’re all on the same side trying to solve a shared problem. Steer the conversation away from blame and toward brainstorming solutions. Reframe the conflict as an opportunity to improve how you work together.

And if things keep getting heated, call a time-out. Which brings me to my next point…

6. Use the 24-hour rule

An advisor of mine used to say, “No decision is a good decision when everyone’s pissed off.” 

So, when conflict escalates and people get emotionally charged, it’s time to step away and let cooler heads prevail. Trying to force a resolution will only make things worse. 

Instead, call a 24-hour ceasefire. Encourage everyone to take some space, breathe, and come back the next day with a fresh perspective.

This break in the action serves two purposes. First, it gives people a chance to calm down and regain perspective. A good night’s sleep and some distance from the situation can work wonders. Second, as the leader, it buys you time to gather your thoughts, review the facts, and map out a plan.

When you reconvene the next day, you’ll often find that the edge has softened. People are more willing to listen and less entrenched in their positions. Solutions that felt out of reach suddenly seem possible. 

Just make sure things aren’t left open-ended without a clear plan to regroup. Set a specific time to come back together and hold people to it.

7. Empower autonomy 

If you’re always swooping in to save the day, your team will never learn how to resolve conflict themselves. But this is a fine line. As we already discussed, you can’t let things fester. So, what do you do?

First, it starts before the conflict even occurs. You need to empower the team to make their own decisions daily. When people are in control of their own decisions, they feel a higher sense of ownership and accountability. This type of environment promotes healthy debate and conflict as a good thing. They will start to see it as actually beneficial to better outcomes for themselves and their team!

If the conflict takes a turn for the worse, coach them through the resolution process rather than diving in to fix it yourself. Encourage them to have the hard conversations directly with each other and report back. I’ve literally “locked” two people in a room for an hour until they figured their shit out! 

Over time, this approach will build your team’s confidence in managing conflict themselves. They’ll start to see disagreements as a healthy part of the collaborative process rather than a personal affront. And they’ll be more likely to resolve issues at the source rather than letting them escalate.

8. Unify as a team

Early in my career, I thought consensus was the hallmark of a healthy team. I wouldn’t move forward on a decision until everyone was fully bought in. But over time, I realized that complete consensus is a myth. There will always be disagreements and trade-offs. 

Now, I go for alignment, not 100% agreement. The difference is subtle but profound. Alignment means that once a decision is made, everyone commits to it—even if they initially disagree. It’s about putting the team’s goals ahead of individual preferences and mobilizing in the same direction.

To be clear, alignment doesn’t mean ignoring concerns or steamrolling the minority view. It means creating a culture where people can disagree openly but then rally behind the final call. 

As the leader, your job is to hear everyone out, make a final call, and then hold the team accountable for that decision. Make it clear that once a decision is made, rehashing it over and over is not an option. This is a 

9. Create a feedback loop

Resolving immediate conflicts is important, but it’s only half the battle. If you really want to create a team culture where healthy conflict thrives, you have to treat every situation like a learning opportunity.

After the dust has settled, take the time to reflect on what happened. Dig into the root causes that led to the unhealthy conflict. Were there miscommunications that could have been prevented? Did certain team members or bad habits inflame the situation?

This isn’t about placing blame but about understanding patterns. Look for systemic issues that may be causing unnecessary conflict. Are roles and responsibilities unclear? Are there rivalries between departments? Is there a lack of transparency around decision-making?

The answers to these questions will help you strengthen your team and company over time. For instance, if conflict often arises because people feel out of the loop, you might find ways to improve your communication.

Over time, this feedback loop becomes a virtuous cycle. You’re not just stamping out fires as they arise but proactively fostering a more resilient environment. Slowly but surely, those toxic flare-ups become less and less frequent!

How I can help you… 

Are you a founder, executive, or manager? I’d love to support your professional growth. 

Here are three ways: 

  1. Connect on LinkedIn and Instagram – where I post practical tips about leadership and startups every day.
  1. Subscribe to my free newsletter – where I go deep on a variety of management and operations topics that will make you a better leader & operator. 
  2. Join Highland – my executive coaching program for founders, where we help you become a top-tier CEO who can scale into the tens of millions & beyond.

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