Powerful Conflict Resolution Questions for Managers and HR Professionals

Are you a people Manager or an HR professional helping employees to work through their interpersonal conflict? If you are taking on a neutral third-party role to mediate between co-workers, it’s crucial to be prepared with some carefully crafted questions. Asking purposeful and unbiased questions is one of the best ways to set the stage for a respectful interaction and guide an effective resolution process that flows.

The right questions are powerful questions!

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The right questions can challenge employees’ assumptions, stimulate mutual problem solving, open their minds to a new perspective, and evoke even more questions from you. Here are some of the powerful questions I ask employees in my mediation sessions, and my cautionary advice on the one question to absolutely avoid:

  • Can you describe, from your point of view, what the work relationship between you and {colleague} is currently like?
  • What does a typical work day interaction look like with the two of you?
  • What do you respect about {colleague}?
  • What is going well in your work relationship with {colleague}?
  • How was your work relationship with {colleague} x years ago?
  • What do you think the conflict/ problem/ troubled work relationship is really about?
  • Can you tell me what happened from your perspective?
  • What is your opinion about ______?
  • How did you arrive at this point of view?
  • You seem frustrated. Are you? Can you tell me what else you are feeling?
  • What happened to have you feel that way?
  • Do you have an example to help me understand that?
  • Can you help me to understand your thinking here?
  • What is the significance of that?
  • How does this relate to your other concerns?
  • Where does your reasoning go next?
  • Can you provide me with a typical example of that?
  • What about this situation is most troubling to you?
  • How did that {incident/ comment/ decision/ choice/ action} impact you?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Are you willing to share the impact this has on you here at work?
  • Has the conflict affected your life outside work? How?
  • Do you think the conflict has had any impact on anyone other than you, for example your customers/ clients/ colleagues/ your team?
  • Could I ask you a few questions to help me fill in the gaps?
  • Can I show you where I have some difficulty understanding?
  • What leads you to that conclusion?
  • What misperceptions, if any, do you think might be involved here?
  • What do you want {colleague} to know?
  • What assumptions might you be making about {colleague} or the problem?
  • What erroneous assumptions do you think {colleague} could be making about you?
  • What reason(s) can you see for the current impasse?
  • What do you think will happen in the long run if the conflict continues?
  • What do you need (not want ~ need!) to enable you to function properly and fully at work {for example to be treated respectfully*, to be trusted*, good two-way communication*}?
  • Are those needs* being met currently in your work relationship with {colleague}? Can you tell me more about that?
  • What could {colleague} do to demonstrate respectfulness at work* {or whatever the need is}?
  • If you could pick just one thing that could happen to make the situation much better today, what would that be?
  • At the end of this mediation {or “problem solving meeting” or whatever you choose to call it}, what would you like to see happen?
  • What would it take for you to be able to move forward? How do you suggest you get there? What’s the first step?
  • What ideas do you have that would meet both your needs?
  • What “do-able” and mutually beneficial solution(s) can you offer which might make this current situation better?
  • What could you {and colleague} start, stop, and keep doing to {reach the common goal eg work together constructively/ make things less tense between the two of you}?
  • What could you give/get to move forward?
  • What would have to happen/be in place for you to accept {colleague’s} solution/ suggestion?

 And the one question to avoid?

“Why?”

Why questions such as “Why did you do that?” or “Why are you so angry?” can trigger defensiveness and emotional reactions. Why questions also tend to prompt curt and uninformative answers like “Because I did.” Or “Because I am. Ok?!” (or no response at all) rather than careful and thorough responses.

About Dale Burt, MA Psych: Dale is a Conflict Management Consultant based in the Toronto, Ontario area. As an experienced mediator and trainer, she helps to resolve and prevent conflict in the workplace. Helping your workplace work better ~ one employee relationship at a time. Follow Dale on Twitter or, LinkedIn, or call her at 905-903-0951 with your conflict question.

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2 thoughts on “Powerful Conflict Resolution Questions for Managers and HR Professionals

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