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Terry Hildebrandt
Executive Coach and Organization Development Consultant
Denver, Colorado
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Seven Steps for Conflict Resolution Using Collaboration

Collaboration holds the promise of a win-win outcome which is more creative and robust than solutions we might be able to come up with on our own. This articles reveals the 7 Steps to Collaboration for conflict resolution.
Written Apr 24, 2009, read 18693 times since then.


In my last article, I discussed the five possible approaches to conflict resolution as defined by Kenneth W. Thomas (2002) and Ralph Kilmann including: competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, and collaboration. Of all of these options, collaboration holds the promise of a win-win outcome which is more creative and robust than solutions we might be able to come up with on our own. While we often talk about the virtues of collaboration, actually doing it is often more challenging that we think.


Below are seven steps to collaboration along with key tools and techniques that leaders can use to facilitate a group through collaboration.


1)      Raise the Conflict Issue


While this might seem obvious, in reality we must first own up to the fact that we have a disagreement with another. By being willing to surface and name the issue, we are then able to move to the next step.


2)      Get Curious


Holding an attitude of curiosity enables us to move away from defending our own position to exploring other’s perspectives with an open mind. It is helpful to balance advocacy (presenting our own views) with inquiry (seeking to understand other’s views through questioning).


3)      Identify Underlying Concerns


One of the biggest challenges with conflict is a lack of understanding or appreciation of others’ perspectives. While we may think that we understand the root of the issue, often times we are incorrect or have partial understanding.  Below are several best practices which will help you move to greater awareness.


 Separate “positions” from “concerns” Positions are the actions we want to take; concerns are the underlying worries or issues that have led us to take the positions.

 Listen to each person’s position, concerns, interests, and needs .

 Step into each others’ shoes and restate the others’ position as it is heard.

 Help clarify the other person’s underlying concern

 Work with more, rather than less, information


4)      Develop a Shared Purpose statement


This is the essence of collaboration: We move from having my concerns and your concerns to our concerns. In developing a shared purpose, include all parties concerns, interests, and needs. Look for and document areas of common ground. Deeper values are often a rich source of commonality. Create common goals to rally around. This sets the stage for creative brainstorming.


5)      Generate Solutions


Now we get to the fun part. All parties work together to brainstorm solutions that can meet all the needs, address the concerns, and reach the goals defined in the Shared Purpose. Be sure to use brainstorming rules to avoid premature judgment of ideas. We have the potential of creating a holistic solution that is greater than the sum of the parts. By collaborating, we can develop novel and creative proposals that go beyond the original positions that created the conflict.


6)      Rank the Options and agree on the Best Solution that Works for Everyone


Using the brainstormed list of solutions, rate each idea based on how well it meets the Shared Purpose criteria. Decide on a decision making process as a group. This could be consensus with qualification, consultative decision making, or other agreed upon process. A formal process such as Kepner-Tregoe Decision Analysis or pair wise comparisons could be helpful.


7)      Devise a plan for implementation and evaluation


This is where project management takes over. The hard work of collaboration can really pay off at this step, since you have strong alignment and support for the plan of action. Take advantage of the momentum from the collaborative exercise to quickly develop an implementation plan to see the fruit of your labor!




Thomas, K. W. (2002). Introduction to conflict management: Improving performance using the TKI. Mountain View, CA: CPP.


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Comment on this article

  • Seattle Whistleblower Attorney 
Bellevue, Washington 
Mark Walters
    Posted by Mark Walters, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 28, 2009

    Listening to the other side when conflict arises is so important.

    I have seen many disputes end up headed towards court that might have been avoided by parties simply listening to the other side's concerns and issues. Easier said than done perhaps, but Terry's article is fantastic advice.

    Mark Walters