Conflict Management

“All men have an instinct for conflict: at least, all healthy men.”
Hilaire Bello

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Difference of opinion and conflict at the workplace is as common as vegetation near the water source. It is not at all surprising to see situation where people differ because of the varying goals and needs and the conflict becomes not only apparent but resulting in personal animosity.

Conflict is neither a bad word nor a taboo provided it is handled and resolved effectively. There have been cases where the conflict has benefited the individuals and also the organizations.

Logical and effective conflict resolution skills can go a very long way in impacting the outcome of a conflict turning a potentially negative situation into a positive one.

The first sight of conflict is shunned by one and all, but it is worthwhile to understand that by resolving it, not only the atmosphere is cleared of the pessimistic and clouded state of affairs but more importantly some unexpected benefits are assured:

  • Improved Empathy :

    Only when the two conflicting individuals express themselves on the issue they are differing on, they actually get to hear the full account of the other person’s point of view resulting in improved empathy

  • Introspection :

    The ammunition required for a conflict is born out of careful examination of actions of an individual forcing a complete introspection

  • Better Self-understanding :

    Examining their own goals and juxtaposing it against the conflicting person’s brings newer understandings. This knowledge helps them to understand things that are important to them resulting in sharpened focus and therefore the effectiveness.

  • Diminished Bitterness :

    People's awareness of the situation, is improved with the discussion that is essentially required for conflict resolution, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people

  • Improved group cohesion :

    After the effective resolution of a conflict, team members may have improved respect for each other, and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.

Leaving a conflict unattended and unresolved can be dangerous and damaging to the organization and also to the individuals who are likely to develop bias and negative emotions. When trust shatters the first toll it takes is on teamwork. The back-biting, back stabbing and all the other dirty corporate games start raising their heads resulting in unhealthy atmosphere and wastage of talent. If the conflict is happening at a higher level, all people down the line start getting affected.

It is important to understand two of the theories that lie behind effective conflict resolution techniques:


In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. These styles are:

Stress is any accommodative demand that requires coping behaviour on the part of an individual or group.

Competitive - People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is an emergency and a decision needs to be make fast; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.

Collaborative - People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when a you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

Compromising - People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser him- or herself also expects to relinquish something. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

Accommodating - This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

Avoiding - People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.

Understanding these different styles of conflicts helps to determine an appropriate approach (or a mix of approaches) for the resolution. An ideal approach must put an end to the problem, should be acceptable to the conflicting parties, take care of their egos and also the interests and correct the damaged relationship.