Saturday, December 29, 2012

Conflict: The Good and the Bad

Conflict can destroy a company, or it can be a factor that challenges employees and drives innovation. It’s up to the supervisors to manage conflict effectively in order to get positive outcomes. Supervisors need to be able to properly identify the conflict, and then apply the proper conflict management strategy in order to make this happen.

Everybody in a leadership position will need to deal with conflict at some point, and how well they handle it can determine if their career, as well as their organization is successful or not. In fact, “Supervisors spend more than 25% of their time on conflict management, and managers spend more than 18% of their time on relational employee conflicts” according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, “only 37% of [managers] feel that they are well trained to handle the conflicts” according to Sinha.

If you let a conflict linger, or it is not managed correctly, that conflict will most likely have negative consequences. Some of the negative consequences that can derive from mismanaging conflict are employee frustration, anger, sabotage, aggression, insubordination, and absenteeism. Wikipedia says that “Conflict significantly affects employee morale, turnover, and litigation, which affects the prosperity of a company, either constructively or destructively. [Turnover] can cost a company 200% of the employee’s annual salary”.

It may come as a surprise to you, but conflict isn’t always negative. Sometimes conflict is a necessary instigator that ignites the changes that are responsible for improving a company, product or process. Javitch reinforced this when he said “Sometimes a lack of conflict can be just as bad as the alternative. It all depends on how you deal with it”.  He goes on to say that a moderate level of conflict creates the best environment to fuel innovation and challenge employees. The key to getting positive results from a conflict is applying constructive problem solving to it and resolving it. Conflicts should be treated like an opportunity for improvement.

Maintaining comprehensive policies can make conflict resolution easier, in some cases. However, you can’t write a policy for every possible scenario, so many conflicts will need to be managed on a case by case basis.  Based on Certo's work, there are four strategies for conflict management, including compromising, avoiding, forcing, and resolving.

Compromising involves giving both parties part of what they want so that they are willing to live with the decision. It doesn’t resolve the root conflict, and should only be used for minor conflicts when there isn’t time to truly resolve the issue.
Avoiding is a method of conflict management where people avoid the conflict all together. People that use this method regularly may have a false sense of serenity. However, the issues are still there. Certo does, however, suggest that this method can be useful when the conflicts are not serious and finding a solution would be more difficult than the problem justifies. According to Scott, avoidance is one of the top ten mistakes that can be made when dealing with conflict.

Forcing is a conflict management strategy where a person, or group, with power makes a decision and everyone else is expected to accept it. It is a quick method of conflict management which makes it a useful strategy in an emergency. This strategy does have some negative side-effects though, which includes creating frustration among employees, the potential for more future conflict, and adversely affecting team building.
Resolving is the conflict management strategy where people actually confront the problem and solve it. This strategy isn’t always the quickest or the easiest. But, it’s direct and it is the only method which offers a win-win resolution. This method leaves both parties better off and frustration is avoided among all parties involved.

Certo also aid out a step-by-step guide for initiating conflict resolution.
Step 1 – Understand the conflict.
Step 2 – State the problem in terms of actions and effects.
Step 3 – Listen to the response.
Step 4 – Determine if the problem has been acknowledged. If not, restate the problem and return to step 3. If it has been acknowledged, proceed to step 5.
Step 5 – Find a solution together.
Step 6 – Restate the solution.
Step 7 – Implement the solution.
“Before a supervisor can respond effectively to a conflict, he or she needs to understand the real nature of that conflict. Who is involved? What is the source of the conflict? A supervisor is likely to respond differently to a conflict that results from a clash of opinions than one stemming from frustration over limited resources” according to Certo. With that being said, part of understanding the conflict is identifying what type of conflict it is. There are four main types of conflict, including:

·         Intrapersonal Conflict – conflict within an individual

·         Interpersonal Conflict – conflict between individuals

·         Structural Conflict – conflict stemming from how the organization is structured

·         Strategic conflict – conflict intentionally created to achieve an objective

There are a couple of scenarios when the steps we use to resolve a conflict needs to change a little. The first is when the supervisor is a partied to the conflict, and the second is when the supervisor needs to mediate conflict resolution.
There comes a time in every supervisor’s career when they are a part of a conflict. When this happens they need to respond to that conflict in a way that makes coming to a resolution possible. To do this, they first need to listen openly to the complaint. Then, they need to interpret the problem into actions and effects. Next, the supervisor should agree something that the other person has said. At this point, the supervisor and the other party need to work together to find a solution. Once a solution is found, both parties need to agree on how to implement the solution. And finally, they need to implement the solution.

Another scenario that a supervisor is likely to encounter is one where they need to mediate conflict. When a supervisor needs to mediate a conflict, they should follow these steps that Certo gave us.

1.      Establish a constructive environment.

2.      Identify the problem.

3.      Hove both parties state what they want to accomplish and what will satisfy them.

4.      Restate what both parties position is to be sure that you understand correctly.

5.      Work with both parties to identify possible solutions, and focus on the future.

6.      Encourage the employees to select a solution that benefits both of them, even if they need to combine or modify the solutions.

7.      Summarize the conflict and chosen resolution. Make sure everyone know what they need to do.

As we’ve seen, it’s up to the supervisor to identify and properly manage conflict in order to make the conflict a positive force in the organization. To do this they need to properly identify the conflict and apply the appropriate conflict management strategy. If the supervisor cannot manage conflict properly, the business will most likely suffer.


Certo, S. C. (2010). Supervision: Concepts and Skill-Building. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Conflict Management. Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Javitch, D. (2007, October 30). Conflict in the Workplace. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from

Scott, E. (2011, October 28). Conflict Resolution Mistakes to Avoid. Retrieved from

Sinha, A. (2011). Conflict Management: Making Life Easier. IUP Journal Of Soft Skills, 5(4), 31-42. Retrieved from Business Source Premier