Prepared by Joan Rinner, Cynthia Joyce, and Craig Porter

Often, when individuals are involved in significant workplace conflict, they have a difficult time accepting the outcome of the conflict, repairing their relationships, and regaining a positive and productive attitude at work. Not only can this pattern be very difficult for the individual, it can have negative effects on the work unit and the organization as a whole.

This document is intended to help individuals acknowledge the ending of a conflict, come to terms with their negative emotions about the situation, and move on to contribute productively in the workplace. It also is designed to help supervisors, Human Resources representatives, and other campus resources help individuals recover from conflict and restore equilibrium to work units.

The University encourages faculty and staff to use all available resources to help them manage conflicts effectively. The concepts and resources in this document can be used at any point in the process of conflict management but especially when the individual involved believes that no further action to resolve a conflict is possible or productive.

To help individuals recover from a challenging conflict resolution process and regain a positive attitude.

A faculty or staff member has experienced significant conflict in the workplace, has explored a number of resources, has exhausted all resources or chosen to end the process, and, regardless of the outcome of the conflict, perceives a continued negative impact on his/her health and wellbeing. The following may occur:

  • Nothing changes as a result of conflict management; or
  • Something has changed, but the feelings between the parties or in the workgroup remain uncomfortable; or
  • The outcome is unacceptable; and
  • The outcome produces strong feelings (anger, frustration, etc.) in the affected individual.


  • Faculty: A faculty member goes through a difficult tenure process, with the Dean recommending against tenure. Eventually, the decision is overturned by the Provost. The faculty member continues to be angry, frustrated, and upset, and wonders if he/she should remain at the University.
  • Staff: A staff member is accused of sexual harassment. The Equal Opportunity and Diversity investigation reveals that there was no harassment, but the process of the investigation was so difficult and the final report contained such disturbing information that the staff member is having a difficult time accepting the result, even though it was in his/her favor. There continues to be turmoil in the workplace, as result, with a number of employees and supervisors still involved in the controversy.

An individual's inability to recover from a difficult conflict situation can have a number of effects on that person and on others in the workplace. Effects on the individual include the following:

  • Emotional and physical health suffers.
  • The individual expresses a negative attitude towards others in the workplace.
  • The individual’s productivity declines.
  • The affected individual may lose his/her job.

Effects on the workplace include the following:

  • A frustrated individual complains frequently and creates a “toxic” workplace.
  • Workplace morale declines.
  • Workplace productivity declines.
  • Productive employees may leave.

These questions can be used by individuals to assess their recovery from conflict or by a supervisor, HR rep, or other campus resource in a face-to face debrief meeting with the individual. Each question is followed by resources that might be helpful depending on the answer.


  • Try to regain a positive attitude. Get help from others as necessary, including supervisors, Human Resources, family and friends, etc.
  • Recognize any positive changes in your situation.
  • Focus on the future.
  • Take steps to gain control of your environment. Make decisions, whenever possible, that will be positive for you.


Helping an individual recover from a difficult conflict experience can be very challenging. Here are some ideas that may help supervisors, HR reps and others.

  • Providing support to employees. Employees may need to talk about what happened and develop an understanding of the effects of the situation on them. In addition to listening to them, you may want to refer them to UI Employee Assistance Program or outside counseling. It may be helpful and appropriate for a supervisor to advocate for an employee, to make changes in the workplace that might be helpful in recovery. In addition, a supervisor’s positive attitude and optimism about recovery may be very helpful. Assistance for the supervisor is available through Workplace Consultation, UI Employee Assistance Program, and the Ombuds Office.
  • Performance management techniques. If the employee’s work performance has declined, steps to address this may need to be taken including discussions with the employee, coaching and training, clear feedback, and performance improvement plans. Ultimately, progressive discipline may need to be carried out if the employee does not improve his/her performance.

Additional support is available online through LinkedIn Learning.

  • Supporting a positive work environment. In addition to providing one-on-one support for employees, there are a number of steps supervisors can take to promote a positive work environment. These include:
    1. Setting ground rules for the workplace to guide employee behavior (e.g., respectful, direct communication).
    2. Responding to negativity in the workplace. Supervisors can address negative comments in the workplace directly and privately with employees, explain the effect of these comments, and ask employees to try to be more positive.
    3. Supervisors can implement a “30-day rule” by giving employees 30 days to remain upset about a work conflict. After 30 days, supervisors ask employees to be more positive in the workplace.
    4. Supervisors can implement a “60-second vent rule,” which gives employees 60 seconds each day to vent about something that is upsetting them. After the 60 seconds, employees are asked to stop talking about the concern for the rest of the day.
  • Examples of language to use with employees. Some statements that might be useful with employees struggling to recover from a difficult conflict experience include the following:
    • “I know you’re still upset about the recent problem, and I’m available to help you in any way I can. Let’s talk about what I can do and what other resources are available to help you.”
    • “I understand that you still have some strong feelings about this situation, but we need to figure out a way to get back to a positive, productive work environment. I would like to help us improve morale. What do you think would help with this?”
    • “I understand that you still have strong feelings about this situation, but I also need to help you improve your performance. Let’s talk about ways to do that.”


A follow up meeting with a supervisor, HR rep or other to check in with an individual about recovery efforts may be very helpful. It is important to be clear, however, that this is not an opportunity to continue to raise issues about the original conflict.


  • Workplace Consultation: Through Central Human Resources, "Workplace Consultation is available to supervisors and administrators wishing to address interpersonal conflicts or implement a change in the workplace dynamics."
  • UI Employee Assistance Program: Counseling for faculty and staff is provided by the UI Employee Assistance Program, a “confidential, voluntary counseling program available to University of Iowa faculty and staff who have a permanent, 50% or greater appointment, and to their family members. Up to four sessions are offered at no charge.”
  • Career Advising: The UI Career Development Advising Service “is a free and confidential service to help UI employees achieve their personal career development goals within The University of Iowa.” This service can help staff develop new skills or prepare for a career change.
  • liveWELL: liveWELL is the University of Iowa faculty and staff wellness program and includes awareness and education initiatives, behavior and lifestyle change programs, and the creation of supportive environments.
  • Health Coaching: Through the LiveWell Program, faculty and staff may qualify to work one-on-one with a health coach to help build new skills to meet personal health goals.
  • Personal physicians and/or therapists.
  • Workshops and Books: A number of courses through Learning and Development may be helpful, including Relationship Management, Maintaining a Positive Attitude in a Challenging Environment, and Effective People Skills.   Additional support is available online through LinkedInLearning.
  • Ombuds Office: The Office of the Ombudsperson provides informal conflict management for staff, faculty and students, including coaching for employees in difficult conflict situations and their supervisors and HR reps.