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Managing Organizational Conflict

There will be organizational conflict wherever there is diversity, discussion, limited resources and tough decisions.  Conflict can be positive if properly managed. To fully utilize the varied talents, skills, experience and education of the team, leaders must have the input of everyone. In addition, organizational members should feel comfortable openly communicating with each other in a straightforward, candid manner.  This generations discussion, debate and can lead conflict.


Members of a team can be trained and persuaded to be tactful and cognizant of other people's needs, viewpoints and concerns. People should be encouraged to speak with conviction, but should at the same time respect others’ opinions.  A variety of viewpoints that lead to active disagreement and discussion can lead to excellent decisions, improved problem solving and visionary planning.  Unmanaged arguments, however, can result in discord and dissension.  There is a very fine line between discussion and discord.  Mutual respect, tolerance of differences and trust keeps that line intact.




·                     Uncertainty about responsibilities, authority, tasks and jurisdiction.  Ambiguity can cause internal and external conflict.  When people are unclear about the expectations of others, the uncertainty can erode trust, comfort, and effort.


·                     Incompatibility of personalities.  Some people are type B, some are type A.  Some people are introverts, others are extroverts.  Some people like power, others avoid it.  Individuals bring their personalities to the work place and some are just not congruous.


·                     Scarce resources.  Difficult choices need to be made in the allocation of organizational resources.  Distribution of time, budgets, personnel, space and materials can be perceived as inequitable. 


·                     Communication breakdowns.  When communication is not clear or concise, there can be frustration and friction.  From simple confusion to multiple disasters, poor communication is the genesis for much of organizational conflict.


·                     Differences in opinions, backgrounds, values and goals. People communicate, make decisions, and develop conclusions from their own unique frame of reference. In addition, biases, stereotypes, prejudices and preconceptions all have potential for misunderstanding.




1.      Smoothing or Accommodation: Resolve conflict by giving in to other people's point of view.  At first glance this style may appear to be very nonassertive but it can, at times, be very effective. Pick your battles wisely.  Retreat is a valid tactical position under the following circumstances:


·                     When you’re convinced that your position is less important, less viable or unsupportable.

·                     When retreat will give you a more favorable position in the next conflict.

·                     When appeasing people’s feelings is more important than your agenda.

·                     To show respect.

·                     When you’re not prepared.

·                     When group cohesiveness is important and you need to keep the peace.


2.      Avoidance:  evade all conflict by ignoring or running from it.


·                     When the source of the conflict is inconsequential and temporary.

·                     When the benefits received in getting your ideas expressed and needs met are minimal compared to the energy and emotion of carrying through with your agenda.

·                     To retreat from a potentially explosive situation until the fuse is removed.

·                     When you know you’re wrong.


3.      Competition and Authoritative Power:  use personal power and organizational authority to compel others to their point of view.


·                     When a decision is unpopular.

·                     When you’re certain you’re correct.

·                     When time is very short

·                     When there is a crisis.


4.  Compromise: find compromise through give and take. 


·                     When there are many viable alternatives.

·                     When communication is possible and important.

·                     When all parties concerned have equal power and are vested in finding a solution.

·                     When time is limited.

·                     As a fall back position if Problem Solving does not work.


5. Collaboration and Problem Solving? Problem Solvers communicate, investigate, brainstorm and resolve conflict through discussion, dialog, debate, persuasion and analysis. Even though this appears to be the most desirable of all the styles, it is not always necessary or expedient.  So when should you bring out this style?

·                     When there is a great deal of time that can be spent on the discussion and decision making.

·                     When the circumstances render the situation critical to the growth and survival of the group, organization, or enterprise.

·                     When commitment of all parties is important.

·                     When no one clearly understands the problem.

·                     To work through the conflict rather than postpone the impact.

·                     To build true consensus.


Dealing with conflict is situational. Which method you use depends on the situation and the players involved. Be adaptable and use the style best suited to the circumstances. Conflict can be managed and the organization can both survive the impact be fueled by its energy.