5 Conflict Resolution Strategies For Higher Ed Leaders

Higher Ed Leadership Series

While it’s often painted as the bad guy, we’re here to flip the script on conflict resolution. We’re reimagining conflict as a catalyst for growth, innovation, and, yes, even a little bit of magic. When managed well, conflict isn’t just a stumbling block— it’s a springboard to greatness. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss five conflict resolution strategies crafted especially for leaders. We’ll draw from collective wisdom and real-world experience to empower ourselves and our fellow leaders to handle conflicts with poise, resilience, and a sprinkle of signature brilliance. 

So, grab your favorite mug of coffee (or tea; we’re inclusive here!), and get ready to experience self-discovery, growth, and leadership excellence. It’s time to rewrite the conflict narrative, turning it from a headache into an opportunity where voices shine, perspectives matter, and leadership knows no bounds. 

Conflict Resolution Strategies for Leaders

Developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, the five established conflict resolution strategies are based on the idea that everyone has a preferred way of responding to conflict, whether that’s avoiding, defeating, compromising, accommodating, or collaborating. 

Understanding each of these five methods will help you discover the desired method and which your team members gravitate towards. Knowing and addressing these methods can propel your team to success!


In conflict resolution, the tendency to rush to resolutions or avoid conflicts altogether is a common pitfall for women of color leaders. Avoidance inhibits growth and stifles transformation within higher education leadership. Consider a scenario where a disagreement among team members regarding a project’s direction is left unaddressed. By avoiding confrontation, valuable perspectives may be overlooked, impeding progress. Thus, it is imperative to address conflicts directly, fostering meaningful dialogue and alternative solutions. 

Defeating (Or Competing)

Assertiveness is a hallmark of effective leadership, especially when confronted with conflict. The Defeating strategy, also known as Competing, empowers women of color leaders to stand firm and advocate for their needs. 

Imagine a scenario where your expertise is questioned during a meeting. By assertively sharing knowledge and expertise, you command respect and recognition. However, it is important to tread carefully, recognizing the potential downsides of a competitive approach, particularly in collaborative settings. Striking a balance between assertiveness and collaboration is key to effective conflict resolution. 


The art of compromise is relevant for my fellow female leaders as well. Finding common ground fosters cooperation and drives progress within diverse teams. Consider a situation where two departments clash over resource allocation. By seeking a middle ground and prioritizing the greater good, we cultivate a culture of cooperation, strengthening relationships within our teams. 


Empathy and inclusivity lie at the heart of the accommodation strategy. As leaders, we often navigate the delicate balance between maintaining harmony and asserting our needs. Suppose a colleague expresses concerns about a project’s timeline conflicting with personal time commitments. In such instances, empathetically accommodating their needs fosters trust and collaboration. Nevertheless, it is crucial to balance accommodation and assertiveness, ensuring our voices are heard and our needs addressed. 


Collaboration is a cornerstone of effective conflict resolution. Dr. Linda Hill’s concept of creative abrasion underscores how conflict, when managed adeptly, fuels innovation and positive change. Envision a brainstorming session where diverse voices converge to tackle a complex problem. By fostering collaboration, we unlock a wealth of perspectives, propelling our teams towards success. 

How To Implement Inclusive Conflict Resolution Strategies

Implementing inclusive conflict resolution strategies requires deliberate action and thoughtful consideration. Essential steps in fostering an inclusive conflict resolution environment are creating a safe space for open dialogue, establishing ground rules for productive discussions, addressing implicit biases, ensuring all voices are heard, and guiding parties toward common ground. 

Create a Safe Space

One crucial step in conflict resolution is choosing a neutral space to talk. This setting helps

create a safe and non-threatening environment, encouraging open and honest communication. A neutral space can alleviate power dynamics and make all parties feel more comfortable and willing to share their perspectives. This is especially important in higher education settings, where hierarchical structures sometimes stifle open dialogue. 

Set Ground Rules

Establishing ground rules at the beginning of a conflict resolution process ensures that everyone understands the expectations for behavior and communication. Ground rules might include guidelines for respectful listening, refraining from interruptions, and maintaining confidentiality. Clear rules create a framework that helps prevent misunderstandings and keeps the discussion focused and respectful. 

Be Mindful of Biases

Implicit biases can significantly impact conflict resolution by influencing perceptions and decisions unconsciously. It’s essential to acknowledge and address these biases by fostering an environment of self-awareness and continuous learning. Encouraging all parties to reflect on their biases and understand how these might affect their viewpoints ensures a more equitable and fair resolution process.  

Allow Everyone To Share Their Positions

Ensuring that all voices are heard is vital for an inclusive resolution process. This means giving each party ample time to express their views and concerns without interruption. By valuing each participant’s input, you can uncover the root cause of the conflict and foster a deeper understanding among the parties. This inclusive approach promotes a sense of ownership and commitment to the resolution. 

Guide Parties Toward Finding Common Ground

Effective conflict resolution involves guiding parties toward a mutually acceptable solution. As a leader, your role is to facilitate the discussion in a way that highlights common interests and goals. Encourage parties to look beyond their differences and find areas of agreement. By focusing on shared objectives, you can help the parties build a foundation for a sustainable resolution and a more collaborative future. 

Promoting Conflict Resolution as an Inclusive Leader

As women of color leaders, we wield significant influence in promoting inclusive conflict resolution practices. By fostering a culture of creativity and communication, we empower our teams to thrive amidst adversity. That’s why we should embrace conflict as a catalyst for growth and transformation, leading by example and inspiring those around us to do the same. 

In conclusion, effective conflict resolution is not merely a skill– it is a superpower. By mastering these five strategies and embracing conflict as an opportunity for growth, we empower ourselves and those around us to reach new heights of success. By championing collaboration and leaning into discomfort, we pave the way for a brighter future in higher education leadership. Together, we can shatter barriers, drive change, and create a more inclusive and equitable tomorrow.

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