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Group Work

Group Conflict Resolution

Group conflict involves any disagreement, argument, or tension that arises between group members as they work together towards a shared goal. Conflicts can interrupt forward progress on a project, cause delays, and prevent group members from working together effectively.

While conflict is a natural part of group projects, the way a group handles internal conflict can determine how successful they are at completing their shared project.

In this section, we'll talk about about different conflict management styles and look at a few techniques you can use to help navigate difficult conversations in your group. Every conflict is different, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to solving each one—learning how to resolve conflict in a group can help you keep others focused and promote cooperation in the classroom as well.

Conflict Management Styles

According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), there are five major styles of conflict management—accommodating, avoiding, compromising, competing, and collaborating.

Watch the video or take the quiz to learn more about each style and when it would be appropriate to use each approach:

Conflict Management Styles Quiz

Curious to know your conflict management style? Take the quiz below to learn more!

Learn More About Conflict Management Styles

Curious to learn more about the advantages, disadvantages, and lessons learned about each conflict management style?

Click on the boxes to learn more about your style, or about your group members' styles!

The avoiding conflict style is the least assertive and cooperative of all the conflict management styles. If this is your conflict style, you withdraw from or delay dealing with a conflict either until it “goes away,” is unavoidable, or is resolved by others without your involvement. In other words, you are non-confrontational.

You would likely adopt this conflict management style when the conflict is trivial, you do not have an investment or stake in the topic, or recognize the conflict is symptomatic of a much larger issue that requires more time and attention. In addition, this style is often used when you want to defer to someone with more seniority or authority than you.


  • Allows for time to think and gather information so rushed decisions are not made.
  • Gives everyone a chance to “cool down,” collect themselves, and regain perspective.
  • Helps maintain positive working relationships.


  • Projects passive-aggressiveness or a lack of interest.
  • Leads to resentment or tension which can negatively affect communication and working relationships.
  • Inhibits innovation, collaboration, or creative problem-solving.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Avoiding Conflict Style

  1. Be mindful if a response is needed or not.

    Not every critical e-mail, underhanded comment, or combative statement needs a response. Before taking action, answer the question, “Is a response needed?” The time you take to answer this question and act accordingly could be the key to de-escalating or altogether avoiding a conflict during a group project.

  2. Silence can be powerful.

    Silence is a way to non-verbally communicate with others during in a conflict. It creates a 'time out' of sorts which is especially important in emotionally charged situations that aren't leading to anything constructive. The key is to choose when you’re silent with great care and consideration—sometimes, it can do more harm if it's used at the wrong time or with the wrong person. For example, it's very different to ignore important questions from a group member than it is to take 24 hours before responding to an aggressive email a different group member.

  3. Not all conflicts can, or should, be solved in one conversation.

    When the conflict you're dealing with is complicated or about a significant, systematic issue, it's unlikely that a solution will be found in one conversation. Rather than forcing a resolution, sometimes the best course of action is to withdraw from the conversation and delay it until another time. By doing so, you may stop the conversation before it becomes unproductive and futile. It will give everyone time to gather information, collect their thoughts, and reflect on the different perspectives presented.

The accommodating conflict style ranks the lowest in assertiveness in the Thomas-Kilmann model but is highly cooperative. To clarify, those with a conflict style accommodating are cooperative in the sense that they yield to another person’s interests or concerns to maintain the relationship, please them, keep the peace, or earn goodwill.

You would be most likely to take on this conflict style when you have made a mistake, are speaking to someone in a position of authority, have admitted you’re wrong, or don't have a strong opinion on the topic, as it can help to effectively diffuse a conflict. However, if it's overused, you may find yourself feeling like or being perceived as a pushover or someone disinterested in the group project.


  • Allows conflicts to be resolved quickly or can help break a stalemate.
  • Restores peace and harmony.
  • Helps maintain positive working relationships and preserve trust.
  • Acting selflessly can earn you goodwill and appreciation from others.


  • Creates power imbalances that lead to resentment or anger.
  • Undermines your confidence and contributions, which can ultimately negatively impact your contribution to the group project.
  • Limits your ability to solve complex problems or conflicts.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Accommodating Conflict Style

  1. Know when it's time to be accommodating.

    Just as there's a time to fight and a time to be quiet in a conflict, there's a time when it's best to accommodate the other person. The key is to know when that time comes. Be mindful of how a conflict is progressing, and if you get to the point where you feel continuing will damage the relationship long-term, hurt productivity, or impede your performance or goals, then it may be time to consider accommodating the other person.

  2. Check your ego.

    If you’ve been arguing from a particular point of view but find your mind has been changed, it can be hard to 'give up the fight,' admit you’ve changed your mind, and yield to the other person as someone who embodies the accommodating conflict style would do. However, the ability to put your ego aside to maintain a relationship or restore harmony is key to successful conflict resolution in group projects and beyond.

  3. Resist the urge to complain about being accommodating.

    It's unlikely that you'll be entirely happy every time you adopt the accommodating conflict style. Countless situations during group projects will require you to take on this approach simply for the sake of time or the bigger picture. Once you do so, be mindful that complaining about or seemingly 'holding it over the heads' of those you were in a conflict with can counteract the harmony you tried to create and undermine your interpersonal effectiveness.

Unlike the collaborating conflict style, which focuses on creating a win-win, those who use the compromising conflict style focus on settling a conflict by finding a mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies everyone involved.

It's best adopted in conflicts where you don't have a lot invested or where the topic is only moderately important to you. In this case, you’d be more willing to give up some or most of what you want to settle the conflict quickly and preserve the relationship. You’re not intent on finding the perfect solution, just one that is 'good enough' so that you can move forward with as little fallout as possible.

While this is arguably a fair and equal way to resolve a conflict—as both parties have to give something up—the resolution is often unsatisfying and temporary as it doesn't address and solve the root of the conflict. Not to mention, it may leave residual feelings of frustration and resentment, which cause the issue to come up again—which those involved might be unwilling to compromise for a second time.


  • Leads to resolutions that are 'good enough' so the focus can return to more important or pressing matters.
  • Allows conflicts to be resolved quickly.
  • No one person 'wins' as all parties involved experience some wins and losses.
  • Reduces tension and eases the strain on otherwise positive working relationships.


  • Leaves people feeling unsatisfied or slightly frustrated, which may cause the conflict to happen again in the future.
  • If someone feels they gave up too much in a compromise, they may be resentful and unwilling to compromise at a later date.
  • Since the group is focused on being fair and equal, compromise can create solutions that might not be best for the long run.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Compromising Conflict Style

  1. Use compromises as temporary solutions.

    Conflicts during group projects can often be traced back to large and complex issues that require time, energy, and resources to understand and address fully. Fortunately, a compromise can be used as a temporary solution. By presenting a compromise, not as a final or definite solution, but as a temporary or solution, you may find those involved in the conflict are far more willing to engage in and accept it.

  2. Identify what your are and aren't willing to compromise on.

    In any conflict, there will be things you are and aren't willing to compromise. Not only should you know what these are before engaging in any negotiations, but you should also make an effort to understand which items the other person is or isn't willing to compromise. You'll pinpoint the areas you’re ready to give up and vice versa for the other person, which will make the resolution process far more efficient and effective.

  3. Evaluate a compromise before accepting it.

    When you get to the point in a conflict where a compromise is proposed, it can be tempting to rush to agree so you can move forward. Before accepting any compromise, take the time to evaluate the agreement. Ask yourself, "Am I giving up too much? Will I resent this decision and the person I made it with later? Are there any foreseeable problems with this compromise?"

The competing conflict style is high on assertiveness and low on cooperativeness. If you adopt the competing conflict style in a group project, you are focused on having your point of view heard, truly believing it is correct, and are unwilling to budge.

Through a combination of communication that borders on aggression and the use of formal or informal authority, you gain control of a conflict and make decisions with little to no discussion. You may be described by your peers and leaders as someone who is focused on 'winning,' does not back down, seems intimidating, or is confrontational.

In situations where you have to make an unpopular decision, you’re pressed for time, you’re in a crisis, or you’re standing up for yourself, the competing conflict style can be an efficient and effective way to bring a conflict to a conclusion.

However, you need to be aware of how often and in what situations you use this conflict style, as it can irreparably harm once-productive working relationships beyond repair, impede creativity and innovation, and decrease the engagement or morale of those you are in conflict with.


  • Decisions may be made quickly.
  • Keeps focus on the goal or outcome.
  • Projects strength and confidence, which in the right circumstances can also earn you respect.


  • Perceptions are formed as being aggressive, confrontational, or unreasonable.
  • Harms relationships.
  • Escalates conflicts.
  • Leads to deadlocks or stalemates which, if allowed to continue long-term, can compromise productivity and morale.
  • Stifles creative problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Competing Conflict Style

  1. Pick your battles.

    One of the hardest things you have to learn when dealing with conflict in group projects is knowing when to engage in a conflict and when to let it go. You need to ask yourself, "How much do I care about this? How much will it affect me? Am I fighting because I care or am invested, or because I want to 'win' or 'be right?'" By answering these questions before you take a competitive approach to conflict, you may be able to reduce the severity and duration of a dispute, as well as minimize the potential fallout.

  2. Practice assertive communication.

    It’s important to recognize that there's a difference between assertive and aggressive communication in a conflict—you want to be direct and honest about your interests and concerns while also respecting your group members and their boundaries. You don't want to blame others, intimidate them, criticize them, threaten them, or attack them personally. If you’re able to be assertive while being respectful, you’ll find you're far more likely to get the outcome you wanted without causing unnecessary harm.

  3. Be cautious of mistakes that escalate conflict.

    All too often, conflicts during group projects are exacerbated by actions and behaviours such as withholding information, talking behind another person’s back, inflammatory statements, speaking over someone, and other non-verbal communication cues like eye-rolling. In situations where you feel it's necessary to use the competing conflict style, these types of behaviours can quickly escalate a conflict and alienate anyone involved, making a resolution that much more difficult reach.

The collaborating conflict style is ideal for situations where the conflict is about something significant, commitment is needed, or a relationship needs to be preserved. Of all the conflict styles, this is the most likely to identify the root cause of a conflict, pinpoint the underlying needs of the parties involved, and come to a win-win resolution for everyone.

Through collaboration, everyone comes together to openly discuss the issue causing tension, actively listen to each other, and negotiate a solution until everyone agrees.

The collaborating conflict style requires a great deal of time and energy to succeed—it also requires a willingness from all parties to discuss their perspective, listen to others with an open mind, genuinely consider alternative solutions, and maintain an inclusive environment. While not all conflicts require so much time and effort, when used in situations that do, this conflict style can benefit all parties long-term.


  • Makes everyone feel heard and understood.
  • Fosters mutual respect, trust, and empathy.
  • Encourages out-of-the-box, creative problem-solving.
  • Strengthens working relationships.


  • Requires a significant amount of time, energy, and effort to do right.
  • Delays decision-making and impedes productivity.
  • Over-complicates or drags out trivial conflicts.
  • Adds stress as negotiating can be mentally and emotionally demanding.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Compromising Conflict Style

  1. Assess the significance of a conflict.

    While the collaborating conflict style may be seen as the ideal way to handle conflict during group projects, this conflict style is not ideal for all situations—remember, there's an extensive time and resource commitment associated with collaborative conflict resolution, and you might not be able to invest the same amount of time and energy into every conflict you encounter.

  2. Collaborative conflict resolution requires inclusion.

    For someone who uses the collaborating conflict style to find a win-win solution, everyone involved in the conflict needs to be willing to talk openly, listen, learn from one another, and collaborate with each other. If you want your group members to behave like this, you must first gain their trust by creating a non-threatening environment where everyone feels valued and heard. Some ways to do this include leading by example, laying down ground rules before any discussion begins, and immediately shutting down personal attacks.

  3. Listening is as important as talking in a conflict.

    All too often when we’re engaged in conflicts during group projects, we're focused on what we’re going to say next, making our case, or figuring out how to bring the conflict to an end. While this is natural, it’s essential to be intentional about listening to what is (and isn’t) being said. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict. When we listen, understand, and respect each other’s ideas, we can then find a solution where everyone wins.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

If you're new to working through disagreements or conflicts, use one of the methods below to help you get started.

Click on the boxes to red more about each technique:

How to Negotiate Disagreements

  1. Accept that disagreements can happen due to differing opinions, ideas, or issues.
  2. Recognize that constructive disagreements or debate can lead to creativity and learning.
  3. Focus on issues, tasks, and goals, not individuals. Follow the ground rules defined in your group contract.
  4. Respect others by articulating your needs without accusation. Try to understand the situation before assuming.
  5. Revisit the objectives of the team project and focus on constructive problem solving.


Stop, Name, Ask, Explain

  • Stop: Interrupt the behaviour (if it's safe to do so), and address it. Be assertive, and include bystanders if needed.
  • Name: Name and describe the behaviour or situation that just happened. Make sure that you focus on the behaviour and not the individual.
  • Explain: Explain why this behaviour is hurtful or inappropriate.
  • Ask: Ask for a specific change in behaviour. Make sure to check-in with your group so that everyone agrees with how to move forward.

Example Situation: Group Member Who Interrupts Others


During a group meeting, Mei notices that Quinn has been consistently interrupting other team members while they're sharing their ideas.


Recognizing the need to address this behaviour, Mei speaks up, "Excuse me, Quinn, I'd like to interrupt for a moment. I've noticed that there have been several times where group members have been interrupted while speaking. This is affecting our communication flow and collaboration. Can we address this?"


Mei continues, "In the past few meetings, I've noticed interruptions happening while ideas are being shared. This behaviour disrupts the speaker's train of thought and prevents us from fully understanding each other's contributions."


"Interrupting others can make them feel undervalued and lead to a lack of participation from everyone. Our team's success depends on open communication and respect for each other's viewpoints. We also agreed to give each other the space to share our thoughts in our group contract when we started this project, and I want to make sure we all stick to those guidelines."


Mei turns to the group and says, "I'd like us all to commit to actively listening and avoid interrupting when someone else is speaking. Let's create an environment where everyone feels heard and where we can build on each other's ideas. Can we all agree on this change in behaviour?"

Ideally, Quinn will thank Mei for stopping the behaviour, apologize to the group, and agree to make a better effort to listen more attentively and avoid cutting off other group members who are speaking. At this stage, the group could also discuss strategies to improve their communication during meetings to ensure a more respectful, productive environment.


"DEAR MAN" is an acronym, with each letter representing its own skill to help you resolve a conflict or make a request in a respectful and effective way that maintains a relationship.

DEAR MAN stands for:

  • Describe the situation in a simple way, stating only the facts.
  • Express how you feel using "I" statements.
  • Assert by either asking for what you need or saying no firmly, depending on the situation. Be clear and strong with your statement.
  • Reinforce by making sure the other person knows why they should agree to your request or why they should accept you've said no.
  • (stay) Mindful. Stay focused on the conversation. If the other person starts acting defensive, try to re-focus the conversation on your initial statement.
  • Appear Confident. Regardless of how you feel on the inside, present yourself as though you feel confident. Keep your head up, stand or sit up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly.
  • Negotiate. Remember, you aren't demanding anything—you're either asking for something, or you're saying no to a request. If you're asking for something and the other person is not receptive, you might need to alter your request to make it more appealing to the other person. Have a conversation about how you might be able to resolve the problem together. In the end, you’ll be able to come to a solution that works for both of you.

Group Conflict Scenarios

Check out a few common group conflict scenarios below—if you're completing this module as a Co-Curricular Recognition (CCR) activity, save a copy of your completed worksheet so you can submit it on the CCR form.