Conflict Resolution

Read time: 5 minutes

In this edition

Conflict is an endemic aspect of our lives. We don’t even need to look to the newspapers for evidence of this. Most of us can surely point to situations in at work or at home where there are disagreements.

It should go without saying, then, that resolving (and even minimizing) conflict is a vital skill. Unfortunately, it is one that is in short supply.

In creating the Maverick Manager Masterclass, this was one of the topics I knew I needed to cover. Every manager is regularly faced with conflict. How well you manage and defuse conflict directly translates into impact.

Here’s a sneak peek for you into the chapter on Conflict Resolution. Let me know what you think.

Thanks as always for reading, and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts by simply replying to this email.

A Fair Shake


Effective conflict resolution is essential for maintaining productivity, morale, and team cohesion in any organization. Unresolved conflicts can significantly hinder performance and deteriorate company culture.

Yet despite its importance, many individuals struggle with resolving conflicts. Perhaps more than anything, viewing conflicts as zero-sum games, where one party must lose for another to win, is a huge barrier to resolution. Conflict can arise unexpectedly from past decisions or previously undealt-with issues. Some people approach their work with such mental rigidity that they can get stuck on the details and lose sight of the fact that there are different ways to achieve the same outcome. And of course, let’s not forget the fact that sometimes we work with jerks.

Understanding Conflict Types

Understanding the nature of conflicts is crucial for effective management. Conflict itself is not a problem. The problem arises because people deal with it nonconstructively. Ideally, people should act like grownups and find solutions themselves without any drama. Unfortunately, for numerous reasons, this isn’t always possible.

Conflicts can be broadly categorized based on their visibility and emotional intensity.

Hot vs. Cold Conflicts

Hot conflicts are emotionally charged and intense. They can be explosive, with open displays of anger and resentment. These conflicts are often easier to identify because the emotions are overt and palpable. However, they require careful handling to de-escalate the situation and prevent long-term damage.

Cold conflicts, on the other hand, are marked by subdued emotions. These conflicts simmer below the surface, often manifesting through passive-aggressive behaviors or avoidance. Cold conflicts can be more challenging to recognize because the emotional intensity is less apparent, but they are equally detrimental as they can lead to lingering tension and disengagement.

Visible vs. Invisible Conflicts

Visible conflicts are openly expressed and recognizable. They manifest through clear signs such as vocal disagreements or noticeable behavioral changes. Visible conflicts, while potentially disruptive, offer the advantage of being easier to address because they are out in the open.

Invisible conflicts are hidden beneath the surface, characterized by subtle signs such as quiet dissatisfaction or uncooperative attitudes. These conflicts can be particularly insidious because they often go unnoticed until they have caused significant damage to team cohesion and morale. Identifying invisible conflicts requires a proactive approach, including regular check-ins and attentive observation of team dynamics.

Immediate Steps for Conflict Management

The first step in managing conflict effectively is to acknowledge its existence as soon as it arises. Prompt recognition and addressing of conflicts can prevent escalation.

I find it equally essential to encourage participants to try to resolve the issue themselves initially. While I will never express it to them in this way, I don’t want people to come running to me as if they were children and I were the parent. I want people who can act like grownups and take responsibility. It is only after they have tried but failed to find a solution that I will intervene.

Establishing ground rules for conflict resolution is also essential. Active listening ensures that all parties feel heard and understood. Respect and open, non-snarky dialogue are non-negotiable. People should also recognize and separate their personal issues from functional ones as it helps maintain focus on business priorities.

Ferreting Out Invisible Conflicts

Invisible conflict steadily and silently degrades a culture, which makes ferreting out invisible conflict all the more important. You will need to be proactive. Regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings provide opportunities to surface and address underlying issues. Attentiveness to snarky comments, passive-aggressive behavior, and “whispers at the water cooler” can offer clues as well. Regularly “making the rounds” and modeling constructive behavior set a standard for open communication. Anonymous feedback tools can also be useful in uncovering invisible conflicts.

Approaches for Hot versus Cold Conflicts

Different approaches are required for managing hot and cold conflicts. Hot conflicts benefit from de-escalation techniques, focusing on reducing heat and increasing light in discussions. Setting hard boundaries for disrespectful or childish behavior is crucial, as is mediating in the short term and following up post-event to minimize long-term damage. For cold conflicts, asking leading questions can help elicit issues, and a history of modeling constructive criticism can guide team members towards healthier conflict resolution behaviors.

Handling Performance Declines

If conflicts lead to a decline in performance, you may need to first clean up the mess before you get back to business. This may include reassessing priorities, redistributing workloads, clarifying roles and responsibilities, or provide additional support and resources. Create short-term goals to regain momentum and improve morale.

Again, modeling the right behavior is paramount. Demonstrating how to disagree constructively through recurring positive outcomes builds trust within the team and sets the expectation for future conflicts.

Meet Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono, a renowned Maltese physician and psychologist, is celebrated for his pioneering work in creative thinking and innovation. I mention him because I am a massive fan of a technique he developed that has consistently help me resolve conflicts and create alignment.

The Six Thinking Hats is a method for thinking through complex issues by forcing participants to confront issues from multiple perspectives. The technique is particularly helpful in conflict resolution as it ensures a comprehensive evaluation of issues from different angles to arrive at more effective and balanced solutions.

The Six Thinking Hats method involves approaching problems through six distinct modes of thinking, represented by different colored hats. By systematically “wearing” each hat, teams can explore all facets of a conflict, ensuring a thorough and balanced process.

  • White Hat (Facts and Information): What do we know? What information is missing?
  • Red Hat (Emotions and Feelings): How do we feel about this? What is our gut reaction?
  • Black Hat (Caution and Critical Judgment): What could go wrong? What are the drawbacks?
  • Yellow Hat (Optimism and Benefits): What are the advantages? Why is this a good idea?
  • Green Hat (Creativity and New Ideas): What are alternative solutions? Can we think outside the box?
  • Blue Hat (Process and Control): How should we organize our thinking? What is the next step?

The Six Hats not only improve decision-making but also enhance team collaboration and communication, leading to more complete thinking and maximizing alignment.

The Six Hats in Action

One of my advisory clients is about to complete a major business transformation. They had been at a place where they should be rapidly scaling, but were struggling for a few understandable reasons. The biggest was a highly manual approach to delivery.

As a tech-enabled service provider, they provide valuable insight to their clients that they gain by leveraging their technology. The difficult they were having was that everyone had their own way of doing things. They knew they needed to create standardization, so they developed a strategy and a program to get there.

And then nothing happened. The program wasn’t being implemented, but nobody really understood why.

What we would ultimately discover is that people didn’t understand how the big push for greater automation and standardization would impact the company’s value proposition and ways of working. How would they be able to adapt their techniques to be relevant to client projects? Would automation squeeze out all human insight?

The Six Hats method allowed us to uncover this latent issue. We were able to quickly identify it as a problem of alignment driven by beliefs and feelings about the business, all of which came from the right place—their pride in what they had achieved to this point and a desire to see the business succeed. 


Effective conflict resolution hinges on clear communication, understanding, and a structured process. Addressing conflicts promptly helps maintain team morale and productivity, limiting damage to performance and culture. Encouraging team members to resolve issues themselves, modeling the right behavior, and building trust through repeated positive conflict resolution outcomes are key strategies for leaders aiming to foster a cohesive and high-performing team.

A quick reminder!

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