5-Step Formula for Workplace Conflict Resolution

Apr 06, 2021

So, you’re finally ready to stop living in a state of avoidance with a sticky situation in your workplace… but maybe you are unsure where to begin…

Help is here!

Layered on to this five-step formula is my three-prong approach as well as body language essentials for sticky situations. 

5-Step Formula

  1. Thanks
  2. Why
  3. What
  4. How
  5. Thanks Again


The first step is to express gratitude, which has a place everywhere, even in tough conversations . . . especially in tough conversations. Start with thanking the person you’re talking to. If you choose, you can also say that you’re bringing the topic up with them because:

  • You care for them
  • You value your relationship (work or personal)
  • They’re valuable to your work team/social group, etc


The second step is to state the reason for the difficult conversation. This is where you get the issue out into the open, address the elephant in the room as they say. Don’t mince words - share the reason for the difficult conversation.

Sometimes it works for you to combine the Thanks and Why steps, and they don’t necessarily have to happen in that order. 


The third step, What, is to state exactly what needs to change. Don’t dance around it. Elaborate on what you said in step 2, Why. Make it short and to the point.

There may only be one issue to address. If so, state the one issue. If there are multiple issues, perhaps at work if there are performance issues, I recommend you address no more than three at a time. Have another conversation later to address the additional issues.


The next step is to tell the person you’re speaking with exactly how you expect the behavior to change or what you expect them to start or cease. At work, if you’re having a performance discussion, tell them what they need to do to be successful and outline the specific consequences/outcomes for not changing the behavior.

I recommend asking a question after you share what needs to change, such as, “Do you agree to change these things I shared to reach the outcome we need?”

With a termination of employment, or if you need to sever a relationship through this conversation, just express thanks again for having the conversation. That is sufficient.

Thanks Again

Tell them again that you appreciate them or just thank them for meeting with you – whatever is applicable to the particular situation.

Find out more about our book Conquer Sticky Situations and our workplace conflict resolution methods.

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