Conflict Resolution

Approaching Conflict

Differences in opinions, experiences, knowledge, and communication styles can lead to conflict. This does not mean you should eliminate differences to avoid conflict. On the contrary, learning to engage with people who have different strengths, perspectives, and personalities builds professional skills, empathy, and understanding.  Celebrate differences by learning how to navigate challenging conversations and conflicts. Resources, guidance, and training are included below.

Employee Resources

Employees can both improve their conflict resolution skills and serve as conflict resolution leaders for our community. Employees have access to conflict resolution trainings through Percipio including:

  • Crucial Conversations
  • Crucial Accountability
  • Resolving Conflict with Coworkers
  • A Manager’s Guide to Resolving Team Conflict
  • Thomas Killman Conflict Management Instrument

To access the above trainings, log into Percipio, select “Library,” select “WSU Catalog,” and select “Human Resource Services.” Then, select the “Conflict Resolution” channel to access videos, reading materials, audio files, and practice simulators.  The Practice option provides Artificial Intelligence conversation simulators that allow staff to practice difficult conversations.

Further, employees can request HRS’s Learning and Organizational Development provide the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” training, available in 1/2 day, full day, or two-day sessions, which includes conflict resolution as one of its five topic areas. To request the training, contact

Student Resources

Students can access the following resources:

  • WSU’s Health Education developed a conflict management handout to help illuminate different types of conflict and provide guidance on managing conflict:  Conflict Management Handout.
  • Peer educator led conflict resolution training through the “Adulting 101” series (currently available in Pullman only). For more information, visit: Peer Health Education.
  • Health Education also offers workshops on Stress Management, Mindfulness, Time Management, Self-Care, and Mental Health. To request a workshop, Submit a Workshop Request.

Best Practices for Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a natural part of human interaction, but how we address and resolve conflicts can greatly impact relationships, productivity, and overall well-being. By employing effective conflict resolution strategies, individuals and organizations can navigate disputes constructively and foster positive outcomes. Here are some best practices for conflict resolution:

  • Maintain calm and respect:
    • Stay calm and composed, even in tense situations.
    • Avoid reacting impulsively or emotionally
    • Show respect for the other person’s perspective, opinions, and feelings.
    • Listen actively and empathetically.
  • Communicate clearly and openly
    • Express your thoughts and concerns clearly, using “I” statements to focus on your own feelings and experiences.
    • Encourage open dialogue by creating a non-judgmental environment where all parties feel heard and valued.
  • Identify underlying issues
    • Look beyond the surface-level conflict to identify root issues or needs.
    • Explore emotions, beliefs, and values that may be contributing to the conflict.
  • Seek common ground
    • Look for areas of agreement or shared interests.
    • Consider solutions that benefit both individuals to the greatest extent possible.
  • Collaborate and compromise
    • Collaborate to identify creative solutions.
    • Be willing to compromise and negotiate in good faith.
  • Focus on the future
    • Instead of focusing on past grievances, consider future-oriented options.
    • Try to let go of the need to assign blame.
  • Practice self-care
    • Resolving a conflict can be emotionally taxing, so prioritize self-care and seek support from those with more experience, such as parents, supervisors, and mentors.

When the individuals experiencing a conflict struggle to resolve it on their own, it may be beneficial to seek support, guidance, and structure from others. Resources may include:

  1. Mediation services through the WSU Ombuds’s Office
  2. Law enforcement for criminal investigation and response
  3. WSU Threat Assessment Team for internal review for recommended safety options
  4. Human Resource Services for concerns involving employees
  5. Center for Community Standards for concerns involving student misconduct
  6. Compliance and Civil Rights for concerns of discrimination and harassment

Conflict resolution is a skill that you will gain more experience in over time. Practicing this skill contributes to a healthier and more inclusive community.

Supporting people experiencing conflict

Individuals may come to supervisors, advisors, or staff for support when feeling stress or navigating difficult situations. To best support someone, it’s important to understand their concern.

Sometimes individuals will use words like “mental health crisis,” “unsafe,” “bullying,” or “discrimination” in situations that may better fit the definition of interpersonal conflict. It may be helpful to learn more about what is going on by approaching the individual from a curious standpoint. Try doing the following:

  • Allow the person to share their concerns. You may need to ask a few questions to better understand the nature of their concerns.
  • Actively listen and paraphrase to make sure you understand their perspective.
  • Ask what they would like to see happen.
  • If the information they shared triggers your employee reporting requirements, let them know that another office may be reaching out to them.
  • Connect with your resources (e.g. your supervisor, Human Resource Services, Center for Community Standards, Office of the Provost, Compliance and Civil Rights, etc).

Some conflict can be managed by the individual experiencing it or through support from others. However, it is always important to refer individuals and report instances of discrimination/harassment, safety threats to self or others, or conduct violations to the appropriate offices. To report concerns:

  • Discrimination and discriminatory harassment (including sexual harassment): Compliance and Civil Rights
  • Harm to self or others: call 911, WSU Threat Assessment Team, and/or WSU’s Student Care Network
  • Student conduct violations: Center for Community Standards
  • Employee misconduct: Report to a direct supervisor or consult with Human Resource Services

Uncomfortable vs. Unsafe

The safety of WSU students and employees is a priority for WSU. If you are feeling unsafe, please see safety resources or call 911.

Many things can impact one’s perception of safety. Sometimes individuals are confronted with threatening or physically harmful behavior. Sometimes individuals are confronted with uncomfortable situations that feel unsafe emotionally. And, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference when emotions are running high. Individuals with prior experience of trauma, may react differently to an experience that reminds them of the trauma than a person who has not experienced that trauma. For example, someone who has experienced an abusive relationship may react differently to an argument with a new romantic partner than someone who has not experienced an abusive relationship.

So, what is the difference between unsafe and uncomfortable?

The key distinction is the perceived threat or harm involved. Uncomfortable situations typically involve mild to moderate discomfort without posing a direct threat to safety. Unsafe situations involve real or perceived risk of harm to one’s well-being and require immediate attention or intervention to ensure safety.

Feeling unsafe involves danger, harm, or risk of danger or harm to a person’s physical or mental well-being. The harm can be objectively quantified, and generally feeling unsafe is accompanied by feelings of fear. Some unsafe situations require immediate intervention to protect safety.

Feeling uncomfortable often manifests as a feeling of unease or feeling unsettled. It is often subjective and may vary between individuals. Even if the situation creates distress, it may not pose a direct threat to one’s physical or mental well-being, particularly if there are way to cope with the situation or manage the discomfort.

Individuals experiencing discomfort can consider the following steps to help manage discomfort:

  1. Recognize your feelings without self-criticism. It’s normal to be uncomfortable in many situations.
  2. Think about what is causing your discomfort.
  3. Focus on self-compassion. Think about taking steps that help you calm and relax, such as breathing exercise, walking, listening to music, etc.
  4. Remember that discomfort is usually temporary.
  5. Consider engaging in conflict resolution best practices, if appropriate.
  6. Consider seeking support – are there others who’ve been in your shoes or had similar experiences? Seek out support and encouragement. Seek out professional support from university administration if needed.

If a situation is causing safety concerns, it can be helpful to consider the following to assess risk and next steps:

  • Has anyone made a direct threat towards me or others?
  • Do I have concerns about my physical safety?
    • What specific concerns do I have?
    • Are there weapons involved?
  • Have I taken steps to change my behavior to protect my safety?
  • If nothing changes, what do I think might happen?
  • If I considered addressing this matter directly with the other person or party, what would my concerns be?
    • How do I usually handle conflict? Am I confrontational? Avoidant?
  • What would it be like to be in the other room with this person/party?
  • Is this situation new for me? Have I been in this type of experience before?

If an individual is feeling unsafe or has reported to you that they feel unsafe, consider the following steps:

  1. Call 911 if there is an immediate threat, or
  2. Connect with your resources:
    1. Law enforcement for criminal investigation and response
    2. WSU Threat Assessment Team for internal review for recommended safety options
    3. Human Resource Services for concerns involving employees
    4. Center for Community Standards for concerns involving student misconduct
    5. Compliance and Civil Rights for concerns of discrimination and harassment
    6. Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse for confidential, 24/7 support for crime victims