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DESC Method of Conflict Resolution

Even in the most healthy and harmonious work environments, conflict is a common occurrence which must be actively managed and resolved whenever possible.

Unresolved conflict can lead to poor employee morale, lower productivity, and failure to achieve organizational goals. In extreme cases, it can even result in workplace violence. However, conflict can have many positive outcomes if navigated in a thoughtful and professional manner. Some people naturally tend to avoid conflicts, and others are always eager to engage in a heated debate. Neither of these approaches are ideal for use in addressing workplace issues.


Conflict is an inevitable aspect of human interaction, whether in personal relationships or professional settings. Effectively managing conflict requires a systematic approach that can de-escalate tensions, foster understanding, and promote collaborative problem-solving. One such method widely recognized for its efficacy is the DESC method, which was developed by Sharon and Gordon Bower in their book “Asserting Yourself.” This article delves into the key principles and steps of the DESC method, exploring how it can be applied in various contexts to navigate conflicts constructively and achieve mutually beneficial resolutions.


Conflict resolution is a crucial skill in both personal and professional realms, yet it is often challenging to navigate disagreements and tensions effectively. Traditional approaches to conflict resolution may fall short in addressing underlying issues or fostering lasting solutions. The DESC method offers a structured framework designed to guide individuals through conflict situations methodically, with a focus on communication, empathy, and problem-solving. The DESC method of conflict resolution involves four steps:


1. Describe: The first step involves objectively describing the specific behavior or issue causing the conflict. By focusing on observable facts rather than assumptions or judgments, individuals can clarify the nature of the disagreement and avoid escalating emotions.

2. Explain: Once the issue has been described, each party is encouraged to express their feelings and perspectives openly and respectfully. This step emphasizes active listening and empathy, allowing both parties to understand each other's viewpoints more fully.


3. State: With a clear understanding of the problem and each other's perspectives, the next step is to specify desired outcomes or solutions. This involves collaboratively brainstorming potential resolutions and identifying common goals or interests.


4. Clarify Consequences: Finally, the DESC method emphasizes discussing the potential consequences of various actions or decisions. By considering the implications of different choices, individuals can make more informed decisions and work towards solutions that address underlying concerns while minimizing negative outcomes.


Let’s consider a simple example of each step. John recently had a poor experience working on a project with his colleague, Amy. John has proactively written out each step of the DESC method to address this conflict with Amy.


D: Amy, in the last project we worked on together, I did all of the creation for the presentation on my own and it took hours. E: I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated. S: I would like for us to work together on the setup for the next presentation. C: This way we can complete the setup in less time, giving us both a chance to gather thoughts before we present.


When using the DESC method, it is always advisable to plan and write down your conversation. Practice it aloud so you are fully prepared for the discussion. Avoid using the term “You” and instead use “I” to explain your perspective. Avoid the terms “always” and “never.” Be factual and prepared to give exact dates and times. Be sure your consequences are realistic, and you are prepared to follow through on them. Ensure that you are planning the discussion at a time that is suitable for both parties. Use your active listening skills and remember to control your emotions. Being open-minded and flexible during the conflict resolution process will result in more frequent and long-lasting resolutions.


Conflict is a natural part of human interaction, but it does not have to result in discord or division in our workplaces. By employing strategic approaches such as the DESC method, employees can navigate conflicts with greater confidence and skill, ultimately fostering stronger relationships, healthier organizations, and more resilient communities. Through a commitment to communication, empathy, and collaborative problem-solving, the DESC method offers a pathway to constructive conflict resolution and positive outcomes for all involved parties.


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