LEADING ORGANIZATIONS: Conflict Management

Conflict is a natural part of organization life, and leaders deal with conflicts of many different types.


Some are interpersonal and involve differences in judgment about what should be done and how. Conflicts can also arise due to disparate expectations, opposing behavioral styles, and even personality clashes. Other conflicts are intergroup, for example between groups or departments, and often involve competing interests. These can be caused by competition over resources, miscommunication, or differing priorities.


What are some strategies for dealing with conflict?

The most common strategies for dealing with conflict are summarized here:


  • How do I decide which strategy to choose?

When dealing with conflict it is important to match the strategy to the situation. Time pressure is often a factor. Some approaches, such as bargaining and collaboration, require a lot of discussions and can take a while. According to management professor Scott Williams of Wright State University, other important factors to consider are issue importance, relationship importance, and relative power:

  • Issue Importance: the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict

  • Relationship Importance: how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party

  • Relative Power: how much power you have compared to how much power the other party has


Professor Scott Williams writes:

When you find yourself in conflict over very important issues, you should normally try collaborating with the other party. But, if time is precious and if you have enough power to impose your will, forcing is more appropriate. Realize that you might need to repair the relationship after using a forcing strategy if the other party feels that you did not show adequate consideration for their concerns. Again, collaborating is normally the best strategy for handling conflicts over important issues.


When dealing with moderately important issues, compromising can often lead to quick solutions. However, compromise does not completely satisfy either party, and compromise does not foster innovation the way that taking the time to collaborate can. So, collaborating is a better approach to dealing with very important issues.


When you find yourself in conflict over a fairly unimportant issue, using an accommodating strategy is a quick way to resolve the conflict without straining your relationship with the other party. Collaborating is also an option, but it might not be worth the time.


Avoiding should normally be reserved for situations where there is a clear advantage to waiting to resolve the conflict. Too often, interpersonal conflicts persist and even worsen if there is no attempt to resolve them. Avoiding is appropriate if you are too busy with more important concerns and if your relationship with the other party is unimportant. However, if either the issue or the relationship between the parties is important, then avoidance is a poor strategy.

From: http://www.wright.edu/~scott.williams/LeaderLetter/conflict.htm


What are the benefits of conflict?

The benefits of conflict arise from dealing with it. The presence of conflict may indicate a problem that can be a barrier to achieving a group's goal

  • Tackling conflict can foster better decisions because it can lead to considering the perspectives of others and seeing things in new and innovative ways

  • Dealing with conflict can be useful as a strategy for continuous improvement and learning

  • Addressing conflict can increase performance by leading to discussions about important issues

  • Identifying the root cause of conflict can reveal assumptions or misunderstandings that stand in the way of effective collaboration

Source and inspiration: University of Colorado and Harvard University.

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