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Fundamentals of Conflict Resolution

Turning disagreements into powerful tools for product development

Topic: Management/Business
Joshua Mauldin

Conflict, and it’s subsequent resolution, is the key to building better products—however, too few teams embrace it. Conflict can take several forms: disagreements over how best to address a problem, which feature to implement for a new app, or how to process feedback you might disagree with. Most teams and organizations shy away from these things, seeing it as unproductive when the opposite can be the case. In this training, you will see conflict for what it can be: a healthy back and forth that enables you to build the most successful product possible.

Before we can embrace conflict as part of our process, we have to first establish clear boundaries and guardrails. We're not having conflict for conflict's sake, instead we use it to surface more valuable ideas, even when they contradict our existing biases. To feel comfortable embracing this kind of healthy conflict, we must first establish psychological safety for everyone on the team. By doing this, we’re making it easy for people to hear and process feedback that may otherwise come across as adversarial. If your teammates don’t have any psychological safety, it’s going to be more difficult to get your point across. We also need to make people in our field feel more welcomed and heard, regardless of who they are or how they identify. By the end of this training, you’ll be able to discern healthy conflict from harassment and bullying; additionally, you will know how to make the most of any conflict to build a better product and stronger team.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, hands-on, online course, you’ll understand:

  • How critical it is to embrace conflict—for you, for your team, and for your product
  • Basic principles of psychological safety and healthy conversations
  • step-by-step through conflicts and some tips for navigating them
  • How to be prepared to handle any kind of conflict

And you’ll be able to:

  • Apply principles of psychological safety and effective conversation
  • Handle any kind of conflict

This training course is for you because...

  • You’re someone who avoids conflict or hasn’t found a good way to handle it
  • You work with people who build digital products
  • You want to become a master at navigating sticky situations


  • None

Recommended preparation:

  • Write down in a few sentences one situation in which you had a conflict that didn’t go the way you wanted. You’ll use that situation to get a better understanding of the course.
  • Ask yourself what 3 things would make it easier for you to navigate your next tough conversation. We’ll reference this in a group discussion.
  • If you could have a conflict resolution superpower, what would it be?

Recommended follow-up:

About your instructor

  • Joshua Mauldin is a product designer at Pivotal Labs and lives in Los Angeles. He got his start in design by creating album packages for bands when he was a teenager. Joshua can be found online at joshuamauldin.com. He speaks on conflict resolution and has written for Smashing Magazine, O'Reilly, and many others. He loves approaching design with as much curiosity and humanity as he can muster. Also, he likes to make glitch art and pet dogs.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Lecture: My story with conflict, an overview of the framework, why understanding this is critical to your success
  • Exercise: What’s one thing you want to learn, what’s your comfort level with conflict, what’s one thing you find really painful about tough conversations?

Preparing for the conversation (30 minutes)

  • Lecture: Understanding if and when it’s time is to have a tough conversation, learning ways to check how strong and accurate your feelings are, discovering how Hanlon’s Razor and The Prime Directive can build psychological safety, understanding the difference between facts and observations, learning about Cranky Conclusions, how to establish your goals to keep the conversation focused
  • Exercise: Separate facts from stories with a few examples
  • Q&A

Having and managing the conversation (30 minutes)

  • Lecture: Understanding the structure of effective conversations, knowing how to make it psychologically safe, how to ask the right questions to get at the heart of your issue, learning techniques to show you’re listening
  • Exercise: What are the best types of questions you’ve asked to get someone to open up?
  • Q&A
  • Break (5 minutes)

Responding when it goes wrong (40 minutes)

  • Lecture: Understanding how to do a safety check, using contrasting statements to refocus the discussion, establishing mutual purpose, knowing how to exit an unproductive conversation, discussing specific scenarios people have found themselves in and how to navigate it
  • Exercise: Read a scenario, take a poll on how to best respond to the situation
  • Q&A

Closing (10 minutes)

  • Lecture: Further reading, additional resources
  • Getting a copy of the conflict resolution cheat sheet