Resolving Work Conflicts: The 7 Step Solution


Problems exist for everyone. This is because we live in an imperfect world designed to keep throwing wrenches in our gears so that we either tackle the problem, or it tackles us, or we let it fester and it tackles us, just more slowly and painfully.

So becasue of this, we all need a plan and formula for solving problems as they arise.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Most people been formally working on our problem-solving skills since kindergarten.  And while things may have gotten more complicated beyond the crayon box, the feel-good emotions that come along with quality resolutions are the same.

Effective problem-solving makes us feel better; it relieves stress, anxiety, not to mention it signifies the passing of a chronic issue.

Hmmm… If only there were a formula to successful problem solving that could guide us from struggles to solutions…oh, wait a minute…

Resolving Work Conflicts: The 7 Step Solution

STEP 1: Define and Draft your Problem

Step one may seem obvious, but all too often people let their problems fester and consume their every thought.  That is why you’ve got to tackle this with a pen and paper.  Get the issue out of your mind and define it in one simple sentence.

  • Joe is chronically late for work.


STEP 2: Use Details and Emotions

Once you’ve defined your problem, build on it by describing specific details (i.e. actions, thoughts) and add the emotions that the problem causes you to experience.

  • Joe is chronically late for work.  Once he does show up he’s disruptive to the other employees that are already hard at work.  He seems to have no respect for my authority; his only excuse is that he’s not a morning person.  His tardiness makes me feel ineffective as a leader and unsure of my capabilities to implement order.

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STEP 3: Determine if This is the Real Issue

Once you’ve tapped into your emotions, it will be easier to re-define the problem and expose the root of the issue.

  • Joe’s tardiness is undermining my authority, I need to do my job and correct this issue effectively.


STEP 4: Evaluate Past Attempts

This step requires brutal honesty, which can be difficult considering that you have to own up to past, failed attempts.  Still, defining what you’ve done will weed out ineffective options and will help you gauge how much effort you’ve put into correcting the issue thus far.

  • In the past I have: ignored the problem, procrastinated about addressing the issue, tried making a casual joke to help him get the hint – none of this worked. I finally got so angry that I yelled and threatened Joe with “serious repercussions”, this seemed to snap him out of being late, but only temporarily.  Without a real follow-through, one week later he was back to the old routine.

STEP 5: Brainstorm Resolutions

This is most active (and fun) part of the problem solving process: brainstorming possible solutions.  With your past experiences already defined, you know what options and emotions (passiveness/tempered yelling) to avoid.  Don’t let doubts hold you back during this step, define all possibilities for resolution.

  • Sit down with Joe in a calm but direct manner and verbally express my concern over his chronic lateness; keeping my emotions at bay, and letting the facts and seriousness of the situation speak for itself.
  • Establish an attendance clause in our employee handbook that details lateness – after 7 formal warnings, employees will face a week of unpaid probation.  After a probation period, three additional late arrivals will be grounds for dismissal.
  • Start keeping formal records when Joe is late; require that he sign off on the notice to protect my liability.
  • Award employees with a catered lunch or an early release on Friday pending a perfectly punctual week; having his co-workers depend on him might motivate Joe to get to work on time.


STEP  6: Plan for the What-if’s

Regardless of your desired plan of action, you’ve got to plan for the what-ifs and brainstorm possible solutions.

  • Joe may quit or may force me to fire him.  To better prepare myself I will draft an updated job description for his position should he leave abruptly.  I will also brainstorm people who can cover his duties should there be a gap in the position.


STEP  7: Plan for a Follow-through and a Follow Up

Your problem solving plan will not mean much should you not follow through.  Set a date for your efforts to take place and commit to it.  Additionally, plot a date that you will circle back to this issue and evaluate any changes or improvements.

  • Tonight I will update the employee handbook and I will address my staff with the new policy both verbally and in-print tomorrow morning.  The new policy will take place immediately and next week I will circle back and see if there have been any improvements with Joe’s case.

How do you effectively tackle problems in your workplace?  I would love to hear your thoughts! Please comment and share your experiences below.


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Kelly Gregorio
Kelly Gregorio works at Merchant Resources International
She writes about Entrepreneurial Trends and Leadership Tips
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog | Skype: k.gregorio1

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