Coaching to Resolve Conflict

Knowing how to address and diffuse a conflict creates a more cohesive and understanding work environment.




Conflict is inevitable in any pet store. As a manager, your goal is to prepare employees to address issues directly and resolve them independently. Doing so requires coaching employees to take a responsible approach and helping them master the skills they need to resolve conflict.


Like other soft skills, conflict resolution can be challenging to coach because there are so many different scenarios and variations. Role-playing allows you to coach employees to resolve conflict in a controlled but realistic environment.


Responsibly Approaching Conflict

Although conflict in the workplace happens every day, associates may hope to avoid it altogether. Helping employees recognize that conflict is inevitable is an important part of preparing them to approach it responsibly. Encourage employees to take the initiative by communicating directly with the person they have the conflict with.


When faced with an issue that is difficult to talk about, people in conflict often make a personal attack or shift their attention to other conflicts. To be effective at managing conflict, associates must stay focused on the real problem. Role-playing can help employees practice not getting sidetracked.


Conflicts can damage employees’ relationships with co-workers, negatively affecting team morale and reducing productivity. Maintaining strong relationships should be a priority in any conflict situation. Coach associates to speak respectfully and tactfully, stay as calm as possible and avoid reacting defensively. To be effective at resolving conflicts, encourage employees to keep their focus positive:


• Focus on issues, not personalities. An objective attitude helps people stay clear-headed, so they can listen better and solve problems more effectively.

• Focus on the future, not the past. When you emphasize the future, people are more likely to work with you to resolve conflict, rather than against you. Coach employees to avoid rehashing past conflicts.

• Focus on solutions, not blame. When you blame someone, that person will respond in kind, making a bad situation worse. Encourage employees to focus on what needs to be done to address a problem, rather than dwelling on whose fault it is.


Four Steps to Resolve Conflict

Resolving conflict starts by meeting with the person or people with whom you disagree. Since these meetings can be stressful, coaching employees to master a simple conflict resolution process provides an easy-to-remember framework that will allow them to:

• Share their sides of the story.

• Identify the underlying issue and related emotions.

• Work together to explore solutions.

• Decide what action to take.

• Evaluate the success of the resolution.


Once associates have invited the appropriate parties to meet, what should they say and do to resolve the conflict? Coach employees to use the following four-step process:

1. Your turn—inviting the other person to speak first.

2. My turn—making one’s own case.

3. Mutual planning—working together to explore solutions.

4. Follow through—taking action and evaluating the success of the resolution.


Even before employees begin the four-step process, it’s important to set the right tone for the discussion. An associate should kick off the meeting by thanking his conflict partner for her willingness to discuss the situation and then suggesting ground rules for their discussion.


Agreeing on ground rules sets the stage for a cooperative, respectful meeting. Examples of ground rules include:

• Everyone agrees to be open and honest.

• Each person will listen to the other(s) without interrupting.

• Everyone will work together to find a solution that satisfies both sides.

• Everyone will have their say and be heard.


Step 1: Your Turn

After getting agreement on the ground rules, the employee who called the meeting should proceed with Step 1, inviting the other person to explain his position. While the employee who brought up the conflict is likely eager to share their opinion, jumping straight to their side of the story can set the wrong tone and prevent a successful resolution of the conflict.


Instead, encourage the employee to allow the other person to explain their position first. This shows that they value and respect their co-worker’s opinion, helping to maintain their relationship. Prepare employees to begin the process by saying something like:

• “I’d like to hear your side of the story.”

• “Please tell me your thinking on this issue.”

• “I’d like to understand your position. Could you explain it to me?”


Inviting the other person to go first also allows the employee to gather information so that they can analyze the situation and understand both the issue and emotions behind the conflict.


Step 2: My Turn

The goal of this step is for the employee to state their case, not to give a rebuttal of what they just heard. For best results, encourage the employee to:

• Get to the point and be brief.

• Focus on the issue and avoid personal accusations.

• Speak their view firmly and persuasively.

• Include feelings (“I was frustrated when...”).


Step 3: Mutual Planning

The objective of conflict resolution is to find a plan everyone can live with and—ideally—find satisfying. The mutual planning step is designed to help develop a creative solution to the conflict and has two phases:


1. Brainstorming: Both parties generate as many ideas as possible without criticizing each other’s suggestions. As the people in conflict cooperate and build on each other’s suggestions, they will begin to feel ownership of their list of ideas.

2. Negotiating: After brainstorming, the two sides can begin negotiating. This is the time to evaluate possible solutions, raise objections, address these concerns and combine ideas to find a mutually agreeable solution.


Throughout this process, remind employees to be respectful when communicating opposing ideas and to keep the focus positive. For example, instead of saying, “You’re obviously wrong,” employees should bring up opposing ideas in a respectful way, such as, “I look at that in a different way than you do.”


During the negotiating phase, encourage associates to find an area of agreement rather than pitting one person’s position against the other’s. Asking, “What do we have in common?” will make it easier to find a win-win solution.


Step 4: Follow Through

A frequent complaint about conflict resolution is that it’s all talk and no action. People get together, express themselves, negotiate and agree—and then nothing happens, or the resolution works only for a short time.


Help associates create lasting results by coaching them to summarize what everyone has agreed to do and get agreement. For example, the employee might say something like, “Okay, so I’ll do this… and you’ll do that.” They should also set a specific date and time to meet and re-evaluate the proposed solution.


Finally, coach employees to conclude the meeting by thanking the other person for their time. A statement like “Thank you for your commitment,” delivered with direct eye contact, shows respect for the other person and helps ensure follow through for the identified solution.


More Tips for Success

Even when employees carefully follow the four steps to resolve conflict, sometimes it’s not enough. As you coach employees to deal with conflict, the following suggestions can help them resolve more complicated situations.


• Recognize emotions. Before employees can begin to brainstorm solutions and find a win-win outcome, they must vent their emotions. When one side gets carried away by emotions or continues to repeat the same point, it’s time to take a step back.


When the other side is emotional, coach the employee who called the meeting to restart the process at the Your Turn step to defuse the situation. If the employee you are coaching is the one who gets carried away by emotion, encourage him to wait for the My Turn step and then express himself in an honest, nonthreatening way.


• Be patient. Resolving conflicts takes time, particularly when dealing with complicated or emotional issues. Trying to get to a resolution too quickly can prevent employees from reaching a win-win solution. Complicated issues may require more than one meeting to resolve.


• Make a concession. Encourage employees to get the ball rolling by finding a small point where they can be flexible. Or they can make a major concession and ask that the same consideration be shown to them.


• Take a timeout. Taking a fresh look at things can really help. If it seems that they will never agree or emotions are rising, coach employees to postpone the negotiations. Both parties may have a new perspective when they meet again.


• Ask for help. Remind employees that you are available as a mediator and facilitator if they are unable to come to a resolution on their own. While the goal of conflict coaching is for employees to resolve their own issues, more complicated or emotional issues may require intervention. PB


Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association. She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, almost 6,800 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit to register and begin using the program.


This article was adapted from “Coaching & Motivating Employees,” one of 29 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover coaching techniques to build skills, clarify expectations, boost confidence, increase motivation, encourage flexibility and resolve conflict, as well as identifying employees’ coaching needs.


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