“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” — Max Lucade
First and foremost, you must learn to accept conflict as an inevitable part of your social interactions. How you respond to and resolve conflict will limit or enable your success.
A Presentation by: Tirsah N. Holder, M.A.
Sources of Conflict
• Goals. Conflict can happen as a result of conflicting goals or
priorities. It can also happen when there is a lack of shared goals.
• Personality conflicts. Personality conflicts are a common cause of
conflict. Sometimes there is no chemistry, or you haven’t figured out
an effective way to deal with somebody.
• Scarce resources. Conflict can happen when you’re competing over
• Styles. People have different styles. Your thinking style or
communication style might conflict with somebody else’s thinking
style or their communication style.
• Values. Sometimes you will find conflict in values. The challenge
here is that values are core. Adapting with styles is one thing, but
dealing with conflicting values is another. That’s why a particular
business, group, or culture may not be a good fit for you. It’s also why
―birds of a feather flock together‖ and why ―opposites attract, but
We reflexively tend to think of the term ―conflict‖ in the
negative. When we discuss conflict we speak of it (often
unwittingly) as a diminishing force on relationships and
productivity which only compounds the challenges of
understanding self and others in achieving set goals. When
conflict becomes an on-going challenge it will cripple
The Cost Factor
• There are a variety of direct costs associated with poorly
managed conflict. Emotions can run high and individuals
suffer. The impact of this is more difficult to calculate but
no less serious.
• In the worst cases, there is the loss of relationships
among friends, peers, colleagues and clients/customers.
The Time Factor
• One that is visible to everyone is the time taken to
successfully resolve issues. Time that would be better
spent on accomplishing work and achieving goals is
instead used to manage disagreements and smooth
What is to be will be
...and conflict will be
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” — Max Lucade
• First and foremost, you must learn to accept conflict as an
inevitable part of your social interactions. – 1 study found that
an overwhelming majority (85%) of employees at all levels
experience conflict to some degree.
• Conflict happens. How you respond to and resolve conflict will
limit or enable your success.
• By embracing conflict as a part of life, you can make the most
of each situation and use it as a learning opportunity or a
leadership opportunity. You can also use it as an opportunity to
transform the situation into something better.
Five Conflict Management Styles
The five conflict management styles according to Thomas,
K.W., and R.H. Kilmann:
This is when you cooperate to a high-degree, and it may be
at your own expense, and actually work against your own
goals, objectives, and desired outcomes. This approach is
effective when the other party is the expert or has a better
solution. It can also be effective for preserving future
relations with the other party.
• This is when you simply avoid the issue. You
aren’t helping the other party reach their
goals, and you aren’t assertively pursuing
your own. This works when the issue is trivial
or when you have no chance of winning. It
can also be effective when the issue would be
very costly. It’s also very effective when the
atmosphere is emotionally charged and you
need to create some space. Sometimes
issues will resolve themselves, but ―hope is
not a strategy‖, and, in general, avoiding is not
a good long term strategy.
• This is where you partner or pair up with
the other party to achieve both of your
goals. This is how you break free of the
―win-lose‖ paradigm and seek the ―win-
win.‖ This can be effective for complex
scenarios where you need to find a novel
solution. This can also mean re-framing
the challenge to create a bigger space
and room for everybody’s ideas. The
downside is that it requires a high-degree
of trust and reaching a consensus can
require a lot of time and effort to get
everybody on board and to synthesize all
• This is the ―win-lose‖ approach. You act in a very
assertive way to achieve your goals, without seeking to
cooperate with the other party, and it may be at the
expense of the other party. This approach may be
appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence,
or when you need quick, decisive action, and people are
aware of and support the approach.
• This is the ―lose-lose‖ scenario where neither party really
achieves what they want. This requires a moderate level
of assertiveness and cooperation. It may be appropriate
for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or
where both sides have equally important goals. The trap
is to fall into compromising as an easy way out, when
collaborating would produce a better solution.
Questionnaire: When I differ with someone:
Usually=5 Sometimes=3 Seldom=1
1. I explore our differences, not backing down, but not imposing my
2. I disagree openly, then invite more discussion about our differences.
3. I look for a mutually satisfactory solution.
4. Rather than let the other person make a decision without my input, I
make sure I am heard and also that I hear the other person out.
5. I agree to a middle ground rather than look for a completely satisfying
6. I admit I am half wrong rather than explore our differences.
7. I have a reputation for meeting a person halfway.
8. I expect to get out about half of what I really want to say.
9. I give in totally rather than try to change another’s opinion.
10.I put aside any controversial aspects of an issue.
11.I agree early on, rather than argue about a point.
12.I give in as soon as the other party gets emotional about an issue.
13.I try to win the other person over.
14.I work to come out victorious, no matter what.
15.I never back away from a good argument.
16.I would rather win than end up compromising.
• Conflict can lead to positive outcomes,
such as a better understanding of others,
improved solutions to problems or challenges.
• Conflict has a bounty of positive potential, which if
harnessed correctly, can stimulate progress in ways
harmony often cannot.
• Everyone is capable of assertiveness and
cooperativeness to effectively manage conflicts.
Truth Between Two People in Conflict
• At times, when two people
can't achieve a workable
resolution to their conflict
(whether in their personal or
professional lives), it is useful
to frame the dialogue as
resolving different versions of
the TRUTH: What really
happened, did anything
happen at all, and what is the
real truth between the
different stories and versions
MAINTAINING your entire version of the
truth over the other person's claimed
story (ordinarily called competing);
CONCEDING (accepting) the other
person's full account of what happened,
dismissing your own account, and then
developing a resolution based totally on
the other person's story of truth
(ordinarily called accommodating);
COMBINING some portion of your
version of what happened with a portion
of the other person's story as the basis of
resolving the conflict (compromising);
SYNERGIZING the two different versions
of truth into an altogether new
(transformed) story of what happened
between the two people (collaborating);
ISOLATING the other person, which then
prevents the resolution of truth and hence
the resolution of the conflict from ever
taking place (the dark side of avoiding).
• As some have said: "There are three truths:
My truth, your truth, and what really
happened." But if we think of the
possibilities for synergy (collaboration) of
two people's versions of reality, maybe it
would make it easier to realize that some
truths are socially constructed anyway...so
we might as well negotiate it into something
useful and healing.
• This perspective of managing conflict thus
takes the stance that TRUTH (what
happened and why) is often at the heart of
the disagreement and not until SOME
version of truth is accepted by both persons
will it be possible to move forward and
develop a workable solution (including
apologies, forgiveness, and acceptance of
what transpired, as might be necessary).
… the Conflict within
• Am I a good or bad person?
• Am I valuable?
• Am I loveable?
• Do I deserve to be happy?
And, most importantly…
• Who chooses the answers to these profound questions,
you or other people?
• Whose criteria are used to judge your self-worth: yours or others?
• Who’s the ultimate judge of your self-worth: you or others?
Judge = Self worth = Self-esteem
• We can resolve the conflict (as we often do), by using other people’s
criteria (of what it means to be a good or bad person, etc.) and then
allow them to judge us accordingly.
• We can also resolve the conflict by ignoring our surrounding society
and rely solely on our own criteria and be our own judge exclusively.
• Remember, our feelings about ourselves are sometimes determined
by cultural norms and other people’s expectations.
• The underlying— unresolved—conflict is usually who has
decided, according to whose criteria, whether a person deserves to
feel good about himself in the first place?
• Thomas J. Von Der Embse (1987) Supervision:
Managerial Skills for a New Era. New York: Macmillan.