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Conflict Resolution

To my darling husband,

Before you return from your business trip I just want to let you know about the

small accident I had with the pickup truck when I turned into the driveway.

Fortunately not too bad and I really didn't get hurt, so please don't worry too much about me.

I was coming home from Wal-Mart, and when I turned into the driveway I

accidentally pushed down on the accelerator instead of the brake.  

The garage door is slightly bent but the pickup fortunately came to a halt when it bumped into your car.

I am really sorry, but I know with your kind-hearted personality you will forgive me.

You know how much I love you and care for you my sweetheart.

I am enclosing a picture for you.

I cannot wait to hold you in my arms again.

Your loving wife.






P.S. Your girlfriend called.



 Management Models for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

 By Melissa McDowell, Kim Coleman, Amy Raines, Wayne Seay, and Steve Sullivan

(TNU 2007)

I.              Introduction

II.            Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

a.     Different Work Methods

b.     Different Goals

c.      Personalities

d.     Stress

e.     Different Viewpoints or Perspectives

III.     Effects of Conflict in the Workplace

IV.     Theories on Conflict Management

a.     The Circle of Conflict

b.     Conflict Resolution Model

V.            Why Conflict Management is Important

VI.         How Big Corporations Deal with Conflict

a.     Identify the Problem

b.     Propose Several Possible Solutions

c.      Evaluate Each Alternative

d.     Determine the Best Solution

e.     Implement the Alternative

f.      Continually Evaluate the Solution

VII.       Strategies for Minimizing Conflict

a.     Respect Others

b.     Communicate Expectations

c.      Encourage Teamwork

d.     Empower People

VIII.   Conclusion


Conflict, when properly managed, is a positive source of competitiveness and collaboration in a workplace.  On the other hand, when unmanaged, conflict can create division, low morale, and chaos in the same environment.  Executives and managers must learn to identify constructive conflict and manage it effectively.  Conversely, leadership must identify negative conflict and deal with it decisively and completely.

For leaders to manage conflict effectively, they must understand all aspects of it.  Identifying the causes and exploring the effects of conflict is critical.  Fortunately, managers can adopt strategies for minimizing conflict and learn useful ways to arrive at solutions by observing conflict management practices in successful corporations.  Understanding and identifying the sources of conflict as well as positive and negative aspects of conflict is the first step to good leadership.  

Causes of Conflict in the Workplace  

All managers and executives at some time have had to deal with conflict.  The way that each one handles discord is a determining factor of success.  Initially, he or she must communicate to gain a clear understanding of what is actually causing the conflict.  Rebecca Hastings explains the need for communication in the workplace in “Conflict Management Contributes to Communication.”  Hastings states that most conflicts stem from poor communication in which one party misinterprets the words or actions of another party.  She notes that communication problems are particularly exaggerated when departments are competing for resources or when they have unique subcultures.

A critical step in solving conflict is for managers to understand that communication is one of its roots (Hastings).  With that in mind, Hastings addresses some of the key issues that can trigger conflict.

     Different work methods

      Employees often have the same goal but different approaches for achieving it.  Neither employee’s approach may be incorrect, nor may one approach be less productive than the other may.  As Hastings notes, the ownership of the approach, or idea, is what gives each employee pride.  When approaches collide, a simple step toward resolution is for managers to encourage employees to develop more fully their approaches.  Next, managers should ask employees to propose their respective plans and review them as a group.  According to Hastings, employees will find that often a combination of the approaches is actually the best solution.

     Different goals

      Often in organizations, separate business units may drive towards different goals.  For example, the goal of a security controls department is to ensure the security of the corporation and its customers.  This goal often affects performance and work output to other business units, such as one that focuses on generating revenue.  As an executive or manager, it is imperative that goals be set at the corporate level and fully communicated to all areas of business.  Jeff Weiss and Jonathan Hughes write, “One of the most effective ways senior managers can help resolve cross-unit conflict is by giving people the criteria for making trade-offs when the needs of different parts of the business are at odds with one another” (96).  Therefore, if executives and managers communicate goals and criteria effectively, two things will happen in this scenario.  First, business units will understand the basic role and importance of security.  Second, security will understand how corporate decisions impact revenue.  Clearly, management can overcome differences in goals through effective communication.


Differences between employees’ and managers’ personalities often are a source of issues.  People are sometimes annoyed by one another simply because of their looks or actions.  A person’s inherent biases are often contributing factors.  Because everyone has biased opinions, management should not expend resources attempting to change them.  However, avoiding personality conflicts altogether can significantly affect productivity.  “When two team members don’t get along, they tend to exert a bare minimum of effort on one another’s behalf.  This has a negative effect on your project, as well as on team morale” (Robinson).  As a result, effective leaders must understand employee biases and personality differences and partner teams and individuals to maximize productivity.  


      Stress is a huge motivator of conflict.  Every employee has a breaking point, and every employee will reach his or her breaking point at some time or another.  On a good day, employees can let issues and differences roll off their backs.  However, as stress from home and work deadlines collide, often tempers will flare.  “When increased stress levels are combined with time pressures, good people reach the limits of composure and civil behavior,” writes Anna Maravelas (23).  With that in mind, leaders must learn to recognize the warning signs of stress in each employee and attempt to alleviate it.  Offering employees something as simple as a break or, in more severe cases, an afternoon off can go a long way toward relieving work-related stress. 

     Different viewpoints or perspectives 

      Individual perspectives are what give a business environment its edge.  In fact, “clashes between parties are the crucibles in which creative solutions are developed,” write Weiss and Hughes (97).  As a result, employers are looking for diversity in people in order to ensure different perspectives are considered.  Leaders in this situation must carefully and clearly listen to and understand the different perspectives.  This one area can be the trickiest for managers.  Since managers also have perspectives, often perspectives different from their own are misunderstood or pushed aside.  Managers and leaders must remember that at least some of their employees will likely have different perspectives.

Effects of Conflict in the Workplace

In addition to understanding the causes of conflict, managers need to understand its effects.  The effects of conflict in the workplace are often wide reaching and consuming.  Further, they can be useful and beneficial or destructive and damaging.  Effective leaders must differentiate between conflict that will boost productivity and build stronger teams and conflict that will decrease output and hinder teamwork.  Clearly, managers must resolve conflict and channel it into positive competition and collaboration.

One of the most damaging effects of workplace conflict is the personal toll it takes on employees.  Research clearly shows that employees routinely take their work home with them.  A recent poll at Williams Energy asked 75 employees, “How often do you bring work home with you?”  Interestingly, 58% responded that they bring work home with them weekly, 11% bring work home only monthly, and 10% bring work home daily.  In addition, 21% respondents said that they never bring work home with them.  When the poll asked the same 75 people how often conflict and stress at home causes them to lose sleep or feel anxiety, 91% responded, “Often, at least weekly.”  The results of these two polls clearly show that employees take their work home with them a significant amount of time.

While taking work home has a damaging effect on employees, ineffectively managed conflict also affects employees personally through:

·       Anxiety

·       Loss of sleep

·       Lowered morale

·       Decreased job satisfaction

In addition to taking a personal toll on employees, conflict also has adverse effects on the workplace.  Consider these benefits of managed conflict compared to the damage resulting from “out of control” conflict:

Managed Conflict

Out of Control Conflict

Strengthens relationships and builds teamwork

Damages relationships and discourages cooperation

Encourages open communication and cooperative problem-solving

Results in defensiveness and hidden agendas

Resolves disagreements quickly and increases productivity

Wastes time, money and human resources

Deals with real issues and concentrates on win-win resolution

Focuses on fault-finding and blaming

Makes allies and diffuses anger

Creates enemies and hard feelings

Airs all sides of an issue in a positive, supportive environment

Is frustrating, stress producing and energy draining

Calms and focuses toward results

Is often loud, hostile and chaotic

*Adapted from “Managing Workplace Conflict” –

The importance of managing conflict is evident.  Reducing the negative effects and increasing the positive impacts is critical in a balanced workplace.  Leaders must skirt the fine line of reducing conflict and allow conflict to foster good results.  Clearly, leadership must manage some conflict to reduce its impact while allowing some conflict to remain unmanaged in order to increase overall results.


*Concept by Steve Sullivan, Conflict Management Team member


Theories on Conflict Management

            There are perhaps as many theories for managing conflict as there are types of conflict.  Ranging from formal models to more simple problem-solving techniques, these theories offer many creative approaches to resolving conflict in various settings.  Possibly the most important part of the conflict resolution process is using the most appropriate resolution for the conflict at hand.  To be sure, using the wrong antidote to attempt to cure an ailment is a waste of time and resources.  The following overview of some conflict management theories may aid in selection of the most effective management tool(s).

The Circle of Conflict

      Author Gary T. Furlong provides one of the most comprehensive sources for conflict resolution models in his book The Conflict Resolution Toolbox: Models & Maps for Analyzing, Diagnosing, and Resolving Conflict.  The Circle of Conflict is a model offered by Furlong and focuses on the various causes, or drivers, of conflict.  According to this model, the six most common drivers of conflict are:

  • Values—one’s belief systems, ideas of right versus wrong, etc.

  • Relationships—stereotypes, poor or failed communications, repetitive negative behaviors, etc.

  • Externals/Moods—factors unrelated to the conflict, psychological or physiological issues of parties in conflict

  • Data—lack of information, misinformation, too much information, data collection problems

  • Interests—each party’s wants, needs, desires, fears, or concerns

  • Structure—limitations on resources like time and money, geographical constraints, organizational structure, authority issues (Furlong 30)

Furlong’s Circle of Conflict resembles a pie graph divided into six equal parts in which values, relationships, and externals/moods drivers appear in the top half and data, interests, and structure drivers appear in the bottom half of the graph (see figure below).  The main premise of this model is that conflict can be more easily resolved if discussions are focused on drivers in the bottom half of the circle (data, interests, and structure).  According to Furlong, concentrating on these drivers—things over which parties have some control—offers a more direct path toward managing the dispute. 


Furlong contends that when conflicting parties allow their discussion to stray into drivers in the top half of the circle (values, relationships, and externals/moods), conflict will likely escalate.  Because these drivers represent areas that are not generally within a party’s control, it is best to avoid them.  Changing another’s perceptions of perceived past wrongs or dealing with external issues would make any disagreement worsen.  Conversely, individuals in conflict can work together to change data problems, allay another’s fears, and overcome geographical constraints.  These drivers are in the bottom portion of the circle of conflict, where, according to Furlong, most of the real resolution work should focus.

The Conflict Resolution Model

In his book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni presents another conflict resolution model.  Lencioni’s model is a series of concentric circles centered around a point of conflict (see figure below). 


This model proposes four different types of obstacles that prevent issues from being resolved.  According to Lencioni, the obstacles closest to the center of the model—i.e., the issue—are the easiest barriers to overcome, with obstacles becoming increasingly more difficult to overcome as one moves outward from the center of the model.  These barriers include:

·       Informational obstacles (circle closest to the issue or conflict)—the easiest issues for most people to discuss; individuals must exchange information, facts, opinions, and perspectives if they want to move toward resolution.

·       Environmental obstacles (the next circle out)—the atmosphere in which the conflict is taking place; the physical space, office politics, individual moods, and company culture can all have an effect on the resolution process.

·       Relationship obstacles (the next circle out)—issues between the people involved in the conflict; prior unresolved legacies or events among the parties, their reputation, or even position in the organization may affect how people work through conflict.

·       Individual obstacles (the outermost circle)—issues that are specific to each person in the conflict; individual experiences, IQ, EQ, knowledge, self-esteem, and even values and motives all play a part in causing and eventually resolving conflict (Lencioni 125).

Lencioni explains that the key to this model is to understand that these obstacles exist during discussions.  When a conflict arises because of a particular obstacle, the group should consider the model to decide whether to address the issue.  Lencioni contends that if parties choose not to address and resolve an issue, they should agree not to let it affect their ability to resolve the larger conflict.

Lencioni also states that obstacles at the outside of the circle are more difficult to resolve, largely because they involve personalities and other issues that are not easy to change.  In this way, this conflict resolution model resembles Furlong’s Circle of Conflict model as they both reveal hot-button issues managers should avoid when attempting to resolve conflict.  Certainly, the issues toward the outside of the circle in Lencioni’s model and those in the top half of Furlong’s model are the most challenging.  Parties that are able to talk about these types of issues must trust each other because doing so involves some type of personal risk (Lencioni 127).

Clearly, the methods available to resolve conflicts are numerous.  There is certainly no right or wrong way to solve a problem.  What is right for one conflict may be wrong for another; it all depends on the situation and variables involved.

The two conflict resolution models presented here illustrate that conflict most often happens when the emphasis is on differences between people.  In their book Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, authors Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner cleverly describe it this way, “United we stand, divided we can’t stand each other” (38).  In short, when people concentrate on what they have in common with one another instead of their differences, relationships run smoothly and conflict is significantly minimized.

Why Conflict Management Is Important

            The plain and simple truth about conflict is that it has both good and bad effects.  The type of conflict and its management determines a positive or negative outcome.  If not properly managed, conflict can be destructive and ruin employee relationships.  Unmanaged conflict can create bad feelings in people who experience it as well as those who merely observe it (Royer). 

Contrary to the common belief that conflict is limited to a disruptive effect, a number of researchers acknowledge substantial benefits.  In fact, conflict can be a driving force of change.  When managed correctly, conflict produces the following results: new ideas for changing organizations, solving of continuous problems, a chance for workers to expand their capabilities, and the introduction of creativity into thoughts about organizational problems (Bowditch & Buono).  With that said, managers and supervisors must realize the importance of allowing constructive conflict.  At the same time, management must swiftly and effectively confront conflict that is detrimental to the organization.

            It is important to manage conflict, especially in the workplace.  Doctor Tony Fiore, a certified anger management trainer and licensed psychologist, said, “The effects of conflict in the workplace are widespread and costly.  Its prevalence, as indicated in three serious studies, shows that 24-60% of management time and energy is spent dealing with anger.  This leads to decreased productivity, increased stress among employees, hampered performance, high turnover rate, absenteeism at its worst, violence, and death” (Fiore).

            Unmanaged and negative conflict has human costs, economic costs, and organizational costs, contends Eric Brahm.  A doctor in the field of political science, Brahm suggests that conflict costs organizations in many significant ways.  “First, there are the direct costs, including such things as fees paid to lawyers and other professionals for their intervention.  Second, conflict often has significant productivity costs in terms of the value of lost time to the organization.  It diverts worker attention from normal duties.  Absenteeism often increases due to conflict.  What is more, conflict often reduces motivation and increases turnover.  Third, conflict can have continuity costs – namely, it can cause damage to ongoing relationships that wrecks the feeling of community in organizations.  Fourth, conflict has emotional costs for those involved” (Brahm).

            Clearly, it is imperative to manage negative conflict in the workplace constructively.  Poorly managed conflict causes deteriorated employee and team performance levels, reduced productivity, and interruptions in employee relationships (Bowditch & Buono).  Additional unfavorable impacts caused to organizations are increased absenteeism and employee stress, high turnover rates, and monetary losses associated with professional fees such as attorneys and court costs.  Lastly, it is important to mention one important note about negative conflict and employees.  Employees who are overstressed and have peer relation problems at work oftentimes carry those problems home.  Negative conflict affects organizations, but it ultimately carries over into one’s home life.

How Big Corporations Deal with Conflict

Large companies that manage conflict effectively employ several strategies, including negotiation, incrementalism, mediation, and effective communication.  Michelle Maiese describes negotiation as “a discussion between two or more disputants who are trying to work out a solution to their problem” (1).  Further, she indicates negotiation “can occur at a personal, corporate, or international (diplomatic) level.”

Parties usually negotiate when they “wish to create something new that neither could do on his or her own, or to resolve a problem or dispute between them” (Maiese 2).  Parties that negotiate typically “prefer to search for agreement rather than fight openly, give in, or break off contact” (Maiese 1).  When dealing with conflict, large corporations negotiate by “swapping data and trying to influence one another” in a process of give-and-take (Maiese 8).  According to Maiese, corporations have a chance of resolving conflict through negotiation as long as both sides project a willingness to compromise.

             Another strategy used by large corporations to manage conflict is incrementalism, which involves developing solutions over time.  “It is almost impossible for one person or even one group of people to come in and, in a relatively short period of time, help the parties find a solution.  Solutions need to be developed slowly over a long time period, with many people working independently and in concert, to bring about transformation of the conflict from a destructive one to a constructive one, and eventually to a resolved situation,” claims Heidi Burgess (1).  Burgess suggests that even when the overall conflict cannot be resolved, the situation will improve incrementally.  “These incremental steps will benefit small parts of the conflict system immediately and eventually can work together to facilitate the transformation of the wider conflict” (Burgess, Burgess and Maiese).

            A third strategy of large corporations for conflict management is mediation.  Christopher Honeyman and Nita Yawanarajah describe mediation as “a non-adversarial process in which a third-party neutral assists in resolving a dispute between two or more other parties.”  They claim the mediator’s role is “to facilitate communication between the parties, assist them in focusing on the real issues of the dispute, and generate options that meet the interests or needs of all relevant parties in an effort to resolve the conflict.”  Mediation is a tool used within large corporations to resolve issues and to assign responsibility for specific problems.  It differs from arbitration, “where the intermediary listens to the arguments of both sides and makes a decision for the disputants,” as a mediator helps parties “to develop a solution themselves” (Honeyman and Yawanarajah).  In short, “the mediator is primarily a ‘process person,’ helping the parties define the agenda, identify and reframe the issues, communicate more effectively, find areas of common ground, negotiate fairly, and hopefully, reach an agreement” (Honeyman and Yawanarajah). 

            Another strategy used by large corporations to manage conflict is effective communication.  Donna Bellafiore stresses the importance of effective communication as she describes six critical steps for conflict resolution.

Identify the problem

Bellafiore indicates that the resolution process begins with a discussion “to understand both sides of the problem.”  In this stage, it is imperative that both sides clearly define the outcomes they want.  “Define the things that you both agree on, as well as the ideas that have caused the disagreement.  It is important to listen actively to what the other is saying, use ‘I’ statements, and avoid blame” (Bellafiore).

Propose several possible solutions.

Bellafiore describes the second stage as “the brainstorming phase” during which “the points that everyone agrees on and the shared goals” are communicated.  During brainstorming, parties record any potential approaches to the problem they can envision without considering the feasibility of the ideas.  “Aim toward quantity of ideas rather than quality during this phase, and let creativity be your guide,” advises Bellafiore.

Evaluate each alternative

Bellafiore suggests then analyzing each approach to the problem one by one, “considering the pros and cons of the remaining solutions.”  She recommends that parties repeat the process “until the list is narrowed down to one or two of the best ways of handling the problem.”  Bellafiore stresses the importance of honesty at this phase and cautions that solutions will likely involve compromise.

Determine the best solution

Bellafiore encourages parties to choose the most mutually acceptable solution, even if it is not perfect for either party.  “As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to work with the decision, the conflict has a chance for resolution,” she writes.

Implement the alternative.

            To implement the alternative, parties should first “agree on the details of what each party must do,” writes Bellafiore.  In addition, they should determine “what to do in case the agreement starts to break down” (Bellafiore).

Continually evaluate the solution.

Bellafiore suggests that managers should view conflict resolution as an ongoing process.  “Make it a point to ask the other person from time to time how things are going.  Something unexpected might have come up, or managers may have overlooked some aspect of the problem.  Your decisions should be seen as open to revision, as long as the revisions are agreed upon mutually” (Bellafiore).     

Strategies for Minimizing Conflict

            Clearly, conflict among coworkers is impossible to eliminate.  However, many managers recognize key strategies that can successfully minimize the negative effects of conflict in the workplace.

       Respect others.

            Managers who respect their employees are more likely to gain the respect of their employees.  Likewise, companies that claim respect as a corporate value will reinforce it through corporate practices.  Anna Maravelas illustrates the critical role of respect in conflict resolution in the following scenario.  Hours of constant dissension had left executives exhausted and disconnected (203).  Then a mediator stepped in and asked them to share things they respected about one another.  As they did so, positive energy replaced negativity, building a platform of conflict resolution that transcended “pettiness and irritability” (204-205).

Renowned management guru W. Edwards Deming touches on the relationship between conflict and respect when he calls for the elimination of numerical quotas to measure a day’s work.  Deming found that where quotas exist, peer pressure and animosity become prevalent among coworkers as people take a back seat to numbers.  Further, he found that when managers ask employees to solve problems—such as finding ways to save the company money—instead of imposing mandatory quotas, they experience different results.  In short, employees express “enhanced feelings of loyalty and pride in their company [as] their ideas [are] accepted” (Walton 79).  Clearly, “a system that fosters an atmosphere of receptivity and recognition is far preferable to one that measures people by the numbers they turn out” and is less likely to incite conflict (Walton 79).

            Communicate expectations.

            Communicating expectations can affect employees at several levels.  If managers fail to communicate expectations effectively through job descriptions and delegation, employees will likely overlook important tasks.  Thus, “assuming somebody else is taking care of something” is a surefire way to incite conflict, says communications consultant Bob Gemignani (Weinstein).  Margery Weinstein suggests that to conquer conflict, managers must “clearly communicate work priorities and responsibilities.”  In addition, effective managers must “provide feedback on how well employees follow through” (Weinstein).  Likewise, managers should solicit feedback from employees.  “To manage conflict effectively you must . . . create an open communication environment . . . by encouraging employees to talk about work issues” (Berkeley).

            Not only is communicating expectations important for resolving task and interpersonal conflict, but it is also an integral part of leadership training (Stevens).  In essence, communicating “information, goals, and expectations leads to trust and confidence” (Stevens).  Clearly, communicating expectations can minimize conflict by clearing up misconceptions about task roles and instilling trust and confidence in leadership. 

            Encourage teamwork.

            According to Craig Stevens, the force a company exerts to solve problems is found in a critical combination of teamwork and communication.  Further, each individual on a team should replicate the team in terms of “team mission, team goals, and team agenda” (Stevens).  When conflicts arise, the individuals no longer share “the same personal mission, goals, and agenda” (Stevens).

            Deming illustrates how the breakdown in teamwork fosters conflict in “the parable of the shoes” (Walton 74-75).  Deming sets the story in a shoe factory where technicians developed a revolutionary product for which sales staff received thousands of orders.  Because the designers and sales staff failed to consult the manufacturing department, the company was unable to fulfill orders.  As a result, customers were alienated because “departments [had] different goals and [did] not work together as a team to solve problems” (Walton 74). 

            Weinstein attests to the value of teamwork.  “Employees should be able to go to a team meeting rife with disagreement and emerge ready to unanimously support the team’s final decision,” she writes.  Clearly, effective teamwork reduces conflict in the workplace. 

            Empower people.

            Empowering the workforce can help minimize conflict as it makes people part of the solution when problems arise.  As people become empowered, they begin to develop “an ownership attitude” in which they see conflict resolution as directly affecting their own bottom lines (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson 223).  Like teamwork, the process of empowerment closely ties to communication.  As a result, companies that “share the secrets . . . what is really happening” take a critical step toward empowering people (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson 223).

            Corporations that treat people as partners tend to more openly discuss a conflict, which leads to a more creative atmosphere.  Because “creativity and learning require . . . seeing and doing things in new ways,” people are more apt to interject new ideas in an environment where differences are accepted (Perlow 5).  In addition, as people are empowered in their decision-making, their work becomes more motivating.  As a result, they are more “committed to their work” and are more apt to work through conflicts on their own (Schwarz 328).  Clearly, empowering people can help managers minimize conflict. 


            Dealing with conflict in the workplace may be the most important function that leadership must learn to handle.  As a result, effective conflict management is the staple of good leadership.  Because conflict management is quickly becoming the most critical and time-consuming aspect of management, managers must be prepared.  With the right understanding and the right decisions, managers are equipped to channel all conflict in the workplace into constructive conflict.  Clearly, conflict—both positive and negative—is here to stay.  However, armed with the techniques and understandings outlined above, managers can use conflict as a tool.  Addressing conflict in the workplace is no longer a task to be avoided.  Instead, leaders can embrace conflict as the mark of a productive workplace environment.  

Works Cited


  1. Bellafiore, Donna.  “Interpersonal Conflict and Effective Communication.”  DRB Alternatives, Inc. 3 September 2007.  

  2. Bowditch, J.L., and A.F. Buono.  A Primer on Organizational Behavior.  4th ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.

  3. Brahm, Eric. “Costs of Intractable Conflict.” 3 September 2007.

  4. Brinkman, Dr. Rick and Dr. Rick Kirschner.  Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.

  5. Burgess, Heidi, Guy Burgess, and Michelle Maiese. “Incrementalism.” 3 September 2007.

  6. Fiore, Tony. “Resolving Workplace Conflict: Four Ways to a Win-Win Solution.” Business Know-How Online. 1999 – 2007. 05 September 2007

  7. Furlong, Gary T.  The Conflict Resolution Toolbox: Models and Maps for Analyzing, Diagnosing, and Resolving Conflict.  Ontario: Wiley and Sons, 2005.

  8. Hastings, Rebecca. “Conflict Management Contributes to Communication.” SHRM Online Diversity Focus, January 2007. 3 September 2007 <>.

  9. Hersey, Paul, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

  10. Honeyman, Christopher, and Nita Yawanarajah.  “Mediation.” 3 September 2007 <>.

  11. Hughes, Jonathon, and Jeff Weiss. “Want Collaboration? Accept – And Actively Manage – Conflict.”  Harvard Business Review.  Trevecca Nazarene University 2007.

  12. Lencioni, Patrick. Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

  13. Maiese, Michelle. “What is Negotiation?” 3 September 2007 <>.

  14. Malaspina University-College. “Managing Workplace Conflict.” 3 September 2007 <>.

  15. Maravelas, Anna. How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2005.

  16. Pennsylvania State University. “Conflict Management.” 2004. 4 September 2007 <>.

  17. Perlow, Leslie A. When You Say Yes But Mean No. New York: Crown Business, 2003.

  18. Robinson, Scott. “Learning to Play Well Together: Negotiating Personality Conflicts.” 24 February 2003. 15 September 2007

  19. Schwarz, Roger. The Skilled Facilitator. New York: Wiley, 2002.

  20. Stevens, Craig A. “Phase 1 of the Linked Management Models: The Mobile of Excellent Management.” 27 August 2007 <>.

  21. University of California, Berkeley. “Chapter 15: Managing Conflict.” Guide to Managing Human Resources. 27 August 2007

  22. Walton, Mary. The Deming Management Method. New York: Berkley, 1986.

  23. Weinstein, Margery. “Conquering Conflict.” Nielsen Business Media. 8 June 2007. 5 September 2007,



Keys to Successful Leadership during Times of Conflict and/or Change 

 Physical and Psychological Effects of Workplace Conflicts

 By Diane Booker, Pamela Cohea, Chris Cook, and Janine Helton (TNU 2007)

Human beings are fascinating and individualistic creatures.  Everyday these extraordinary creatures come together in the workplace to earn a living for their very existence.  As a result, work related conflict becomes a normal part of human interaction.  However, some people do not handle stress as well as others.  Our society and the health care industry are beginning to realize the effects of conflict stress.  Researchers are examining the correlation between workplace stress and its effect on the well being of employees.  Stress can have a negative impact on people’s lives and health.  Therefore, conflicts can escalate into disturbing situations for individuals.  This can cause serious health problems.  This article is about workplace conflicts and the effect it can have on one’s health.

Conflict in the Workplace

            Conflicts at work can arise daily.  Some of the root causes for employee stress are the distribution of job assignments, the administration of processes and procedures throughout the work environment, meeting work deadlines, and team member interactions.  One of the greatest stress factors is caused when an employee thinks that he/she has been treated unfairly.  Employers need to be aware of their responsibilities and roles in creating stressful situations within the workplace.  Managers need to be fair and consistent when dealing with every employee.  They need to set a tone of organizational openness and trust that will help to alleviate problems.

Research on the Topic  

            Researchers have begun to study the correlation between conflicts in the workplace and employee well being.  Some companies are looking to develop Stress Risk Assessments and Workplace Health Programs for their employees.  The article, “Association of Chronic Work Stress, and Psychiatric Disorders,” published by a group of British doctors, explains the evaluation process.  The first step in each of the programs is to administer a short questionnaire to employees.  The questionnaire allows the management of the organization to learn more about their specific stress factors.  After the completion of the questionnaires, researchers are able to analyze the data.  This information allows them to identify individuals with high potential for stress related problems within their organization.  Such questionnaires should include a process to measure employee perceptions of jobs, organizational commitment, and overall health.  Once the data is collected, researchers can identify ways to improve stressful situations within the workplace.  These methods have allowed some organizations to develop initiatives to address sources and symptoms of job stress (1).

            Dr. Carol Dewa believes that there is a link between psychiatric disorders and work-related stress (1).  She conducted a study in Canada to test this theory.  The study included 22,118 working respondents from the Canadian Community Health Group.  The results showed that thirty-one percent of respondents experienced chronic work stress.  This stress led to at least one chronic physical or psychiatric disorder among those affected.  Study conclusions showed the presence of chronic work stress appears to amplify the effects of other disorders.  The study also found that workplace related anxieties are often associated with sick leave requests (1).  As a result, excessive absenteeism abounds and negatively affects the overall productivity of the organization.

Successful Ways to implement Team Problem Solving Techniques

            The first thing that an organization should do is to create a Problem Solving Team.  The team should include members of management and those employees directly working in day-to-day organizational operations.  The people who do the work are the most knowledgeable about problems within their work area.  Listed are steps a team can take in identifying and addressing stress producing problems within any organization.

  • Identify the problem.

  • Identify the factors that create or contribute to the problem (brainstorming).

  • Conduct investigations into the direct causes.

  • Conduct fact-finding surveys and time studies.

  • Analyze data and create a summary report.

  • Conduct team meetings with employees, communicate the findings, and introduce the action plan for improvement.

            Organizations need to recognize that workplace stress can have a negative impact on the health and well being of their workforce.  Likewise, managers need to be aware of situations that cause conflict and stress.  They must learn techniques and skills necessary to manage these scenarios successfully.  The results will be beneficial to both organizations, as well as employees.  Studies have shown that happy and content employees are productive and creative allowing them to be the best in their business.

Geronimo Stone

In light of this information, how do organizations produce content employees who are productive and creative?  How can leaders harness such human resources and use them to create strong teams?  Authors, Craig A. Stevens and Michael Moore, have written a fictional story that answers such questions.  Their book, Geronimo Stone:  His Music, His Love, and the Mobile of Excellent Management, contains many management principles practical for real life application.

            Stevens serves as President, and Moore as Vice President of Marketing, at the Westbrook Stevens consulting firm.  Together they bring to their work, years of business management expertise, and a passion for teaching.  As stated in their book, Stevens has taught extensively on both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Additionally, he has “worked with every level of management” in “organizations of every size”  (167).  Likewise, Moore possesses much expertise, and has extensive experience in the music industry.  Among many accomplishments, he has received recognition for “motivating successful teams and imaginative problem solving” (168).  In this literary collaboration, the authors have pooled their expansive business knowledge.  What results, is a book useful for leaders in all fields.

In Geronimo Stone, the main character, Tommy Stone, faces the challenge of saving his late uncle’s music company. Tommy has long realized the business is vulnerable due to his uncle’s shortsighted management philosophy.  Upon the death of its’ dynamic leader, the weakened organization becomes the target of a hostile takeover attempt.  As the story unfolds, Tommy learns that his late uncle had realized, too late, the secrets of successful management.  It now falls to him to implement the new management plan and save his family’s business.

“The Mobile of Excellent Management”

            The original ideas of Dr. Jerry Westbrook are the basis for the secrets of successful management highlighted in the book (162).  With these ideas expounded upon, Craig A. Stevens uses them to create the story’s pivotal management model.  Stevens titles his model, “The Mobile of Excellent Management.”  Structured as a hanging model, successful management finds balance under the hand of effective leadership.  After examination of the model, one discovers that Stevens emphasizes seven key management attributes.  They are:  leadership, culture, customer focus, team building, problem solving, continuous improvement, and performance measures.  The following graphic illustrates how these attributes find support and balance within the management framework. 





            The model suggests that leadership plays a profound role in successful management.  As twenty-first century companies are increasingly required to face changes of every kind, adaptable leaders are indispensable.  In their text, Management of Organizational Behavior, Paul Hersey, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson explore the face of modern management theory.  They suggest that, “leadership and management of organizations have never been more challenging” (1).  Further, they assert, “leaders must be able to diagnose, adapt, and communicate… in order to meet the needs of a rapidly changing and challenging world” (6).  Stevens and Moore describe leaders as able “to empower organizational structures that lead the company to success” (29).

Team Building and Problem Solving

            One of the most vital functions a leader performs is the building of strong employee work teams.  Successful leaders recognize that an organization’s pool of human resources is its’ most important asset.  Ken Hendrix, CEO of ABC Supply, has used this belief to create enormous success for his company.  When Hendrix takes over a new venture, he strives to maintain the existing workforce.  In Maria Bartiromo’s article in the September 2007 issue of The Reader’s Digest, Hendrix describes his philosophy.  He states:

“It’s a fact that employees have a lot to offer.  When I buy a business – and this is a business that might be failing – I talk to the forklift operator or the warehouse guy.  I’ll say, ‘If you were running this business, what would you do?’  And he tells me ninety-five percent of what has to be changed for that business to be successful” (72-73).

This commitment to team building is also found in Stevens’ book within the “Mobile of Excellent Management.”  Geronimo Stone states, “We have known since time began that people working together get more done than people working alone” (86).  Recognizing that well-led teams help to create strong organizations is important to effective management. So is learning the secrets of problem solving in order to maintain team strength.  Stevens and Moore describe this management step as the “tool box” of the work team (99).  They explain, “think of problem-solving in the broader sense as the skills and core competencies needed to do a good job” (102).  Naturally, a team with superior problem solving skills will translate into a more effective and happier workforce.  Managers who seek to build such skills will ultimately be reducing workplace conflict and employee stress.  

As Mary Walton suggests in The Deming Management Method, many companies become weak by bearing the everyday concerns of business.  This focus on the immediate prevents them from adequately investing in the company’s long-range future (55).  As a result, employees are less secure.  Conversely, Walton suggest, “When employees are working for a company that is investing for the future, they will feel more secure and less likely to look for jobs in companies that appear more promising” (55).  By applying the management principles taught in Geronimo Stone, managers will be helping to strengthen their companies for the future.   

  As Ken Hendrix has discovered, highly competent employees who possess excellent problem solving skills are extremely beneficial.  Such empowered employees share with management a vision that enables a company to succeed.  The book, The Search for Meaning in the Workplace by Thomas H. Naylor, William H. Willimon, and Rolf Osterberg, examines the concept of employee empowerment.  The authors quote Peter Block, saying, “Empowerment embodies the belief that the answer to the latest crisis lies within each of us and therefore we all buckle up for the adventure” (154).  This attitude, corporally shared, creates a sense of teamwork that goes far in building workplace security.  Consequently, secure employees are both creative and productive.  Once empowered, they are able to excel to become exemplary within their fields.

Deliberately and intelligently managing teams leads to many positive results.  Among them are the adoption of a shared vision, greater potential for future success, and the creation of an empowered workforce.  Just as the fictional Tommy Stone discovered, real life managers must learn to implement effective management principles.  In doing so, their companies will become stronger and their employees will be content.

Human Behavior in the Organizational Environment

In order to implement effective management principles, managers need an understanding of human behavior within workplace settings.  Experts define organizational behavior as an academic discipline concerned with describing, understanding, predicting, and controlling human behavior in an organizational environment.  The field is particularly concerned with group dynamics, how individuals relate to and participate in groups, how leadership is exercised, how organizations function, and how change is effected in organizational settings (Gale 1).

In years past, the organizational environment was structured and demanding.  It has now changed to an environment that listens to and understands the needs of employees.  To gain better understanding, early contributors Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris, and Rensis Likert enhanced the theory of behavior.  They researched various avenues in which to recognize employee performance as it relates to business. The work of these scholars forged the discipline of organizational behavior, as we know it today.  Douglas McGregor, the creator of “Theory X” and “Theory Y,” assumed that “Theory X” people were lazy.  Such people, he believed, possessed personal goals that ran counter to the organization’s goals.  As a result, he concluded that managers had to control people through external factors.  In an organization, this meant close supervision and guidance so that management could ensure high performance.  The “Theory Y” philosophy made assumptions based on greater trust in others.  This theory held the belief that human beings were more mature, self-motivated and self-controlled than “Theory X” assumed (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson 60).  Chris Argyris also made a strong case for reducing the amount of organizational control.  He believed constraints of organizational structure on people were self-defeating to organizational goals of effectiveness and efficiency.  Rensis Likert proposed that managers would be most effective using a supportive approach.  This meant creating a work environment in which the individual sees their experiences in terms of their values, goals, expectations, and aspirations.  Such an environment would contribute to and maintain an employee’s sense of personal worth and importance (Bence 14).

Group Behavior


In order for organizational behavior to be successful, one must also review the behaviors associated with groups.  Group behavior entails various concepts associated with team development and the behaviors associated with this process.  The main factors in team development involve the importance of rapport, trust, and etiquette.  When these elements are absent, conflict tends to arise.  The conflict perspective focuses on forces in society that promote competition and change.  Assumptions are that conflict in society happens over competition for limited resources.  Social change is an expected feature of conflict in society.  Such conflict occurs as groups with differing degrees of power compete for scarce resources.  Power itself may also be a scarce resource.  Inequalities of race, gender, class, or age can all result in power inequities and conflict.  People possessing power attempt to preserve their privilege to benefit themselves and protect their status and property.  


Additionally, within small group interactions, conflict may take place due to personality clashes, resistance to change, and many other factors.  Left unchecked, these factors have the potential to keep the team from achieving success.  Studies have shown that personality differences seem to be the common denominator that creates team member conflict.  People are more than willing to cite examples of how personalities have affected team performances. These examples reveal themselves in two ways.  First, how personalities have made life in an organization unbearable and, secondly, how one has contributed to an enjoyable experience (Ratzburg 1).  To avoid these types of clashes, organizations should impose development interventions.  Interventional plans help to increase awareness of sources of conflict, and increase diversity awareness and skills.  Such plans may lead to changes such as job rotation, temporary assignments, permanent transfers, and dismissal if needed (Bulleit 10).  

As a manager, it is imperative to identify certain behaviors within the work environment and within teams. Understanding organizations and their effective functioning requires the development of a comprehensive view of human behavior.  Possessing a strong knowledge of organizational behavior is an asset that will prepare employees for leadership roles.  Such knowledge is essential for meeting the challenges and uncertainty that confront today’s organizations.

The Drivers of Change

Perhaps one of the most challenging problems organizations face today is how to effectively handle workplace change.  Most people are content within their comfort zones and tend to rely on the status quo.  That is, until management introduces sweeping changes through downsizing or rightsizing.  Such changes are likely to rattle the foundations of operating procedures.  They are necessary, however, in order to bring about a more effective and efficient organization.  This particularly relates to the organization’s bottom line.

Linked Management Model Phase III, “Understanding the Drivers of Change”

An organization's internal environment is comprised of its systems and its people. The structure of the organization's activities, interactions, and sentiments are always subject to what constitutes a change.  In this regard, change is either an act or a process.  Any change in activities, interactions, or sentiments will produce some change in the other two as well (Westbrook Stevens 3).  There can be changes to an organization's external environment, which do not necessarily relate to a change of staff, management, or procedures.  International and domestic events can produce cause and effect relationships to the drivers of change.  Likewise, so can government restrictions and regulations.  There are always driving and restraining forces in an evolving organization that relate to possibilities of change. These forces can clash and cause conflict.  

Below is Craig A. Steven's diagram of Phase 3 of The Linked Management Models.



“Conflict can be viewed as a difference in perspectives” (Fernandez 1).  No two individuals are likely to see any one thing the same way.  As a result, conflict and tension can naturally arise at times.  Especially, if one individual sees the need for change and the other is content with the status quo.  There are two views of conflict.  One is the traditional view that conflict is bad and people should avoid it.  The other is the human relationship view that believes that conflict is natural.  This view maintains that embracing diversity is healthy, but only when energy and creativity remain properly harnessed.  Perhaps, based on a contingency theory, both views are correct at the appropriate time.  It is the unhealthy conflict that one should avoid.


It is not always healthy or good to be in continuous conflict.  Even when conflict is beneficial for generating creativity, too much of a good thing is too much indeed.  The following are ways of preventing and managing conflict:

   Help the team focus on the task and stay on track.

   Be mindful of other people's styles.

   Make suggestions on how to proceed

   Help negotiate.

   Ask questions to clarify expectations, issues, and possible directions to take

   Help find needed resources

   Provide constructive feedback.

   Share observations.

   Coach staff.

   Help team members plan how to implement their agreement.

   Help team members evaluate their efforts and make needed changes.

   Set ground rules for discussion

   Teach reflective listening skills to team members.

   Teach meditation skills.

(Fernandez 3)    


Historically negotiation simply means that one party wins, and the other party loses.  Today there are many wrongs in every right and vice-versa.  The following are suggested principles for negotiation that foster a “win-win” solution:

   View participants as problem solvers.

   Separate the people from the problems.

   Be soft on the people, hard on the problem.

   Focus on the interests, not on positions or the bottom line.

   Help participants create multiple options for mutual gain.

   Use objective criteria.

   Reason and be open to reason; yield to principles, not to pressure.

                        (Fernandez 4)

Team Problem Solving Modes

Teams develop characteristics that set them apart from other teams.  Any work team may have its own rituals and traditions that make it a unique work unit.  These characteristics are much like family characteristics.  They establish cohesiveness and group identity.  “Just as leaders have styles - so do teams have modes or patterns of behavior as perceived by others.” (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 328). 

There are four problem-solving modes for various group situations.  First, there is the Crisis Mode.  In the Crisis Mode, a team is facing a situation that requires significant amounts of task behavior.  There should be plenty of what, when, where, and how information.  Due to the need for this kind of information, there is not much room for relationship behavior.  Behaviors, such as discussion, take a back seat.  The very nature of crises makes this the best approach for problem solving.  The danger is that many organizations treat every situation as if it is a crisis. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 328)

The second problem-solving mode is the Organizational Problem-Solving Mode.  When in this mode, high amounts of both task and relationship behaviors are needed.  Leaders must place considerable emphasis on structuring team activities and motivating team members. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329).  They should also spell out tasks, ask members for ideas, and encourage conversation in order to assure a productive team meeting.

The Interpersonal Problem-Solving Mode is a high relationship-low task approach.  After a problem presents, cliques develop that serve to disrupt the team.  Employing strong relationship behaviors helps to increase interaction of all team members. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329). 

In the Routine Procedural Mode, “emphasis is on getting the job done through performing the assigned roles with a minimum of structuring activities and socio emotional support.”  There is low task and relationship behavior in this mode.  An experienced cohesive team can always accomplish its mission effortlessly in this mode.  It only comes down to who does what. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329).

New Training Programs and Techniques for Individuals and Groups

A diverse workforce, characterized by organizational drivers of change, is drawing attention to interpersonal conflicts among workers.  Teams do not always work effectively, and change may not accomplish everything intended.  “According to a recent Accountemps survey, executives spend more than nine weeks each year resolving personality clashes between employees.”(Brown 1).  Such clashes undermine morale.  Competition and complex communication barriers create conditions that generate the need for new training and employee development.  “Conflict management is the ability to manage every-day situations that involve personal interactions involving difference of opinion.  It differs from conflict resolution, where successful resolution means that the issue is totally resolved and finished.” (Brown 1).   

Aside from methods of arbitration or involvement of costly legal action, conflict mediation moves toward worker empowerment.  This involves using the services of a mediator, such as, a human resource professional.  Training for all employees that includes conflict resolution is available and popular today.

Casey and Casey suggest self-esteem training to aid in the process of conflict management.  They also suggest the use of drama and role-play to engage learners in clarifying the issues.  This helps in constructing solutions to conflict situations (Brown 1).  Audience participation in conflict resolution is also used. “Other techniques include using posters to promote conflict resolution, detailing ways to handle anger, engaging in active listening, and practicing “win-win” strategies.”

 If employees do not have the skills to work in teams, teamwork can become disastrous.  Modern training is most popular with sales staffs and project managers, but applies to all situations.  The types of modern classes available are as follows:

   Team building.

   Lateral thinking.

   Team member training.

   Team leader training.

   Facilitator training.

   Databased team oriented problem solving.

   Effective meeting management skills.

(  2)

There are a number of various methods for training. The most popular methods are as follows:

   Interactive-style presentation.

   Problem solving real world situations

   Experimental learning exercises.

   Group interactive discussions.

   Video/DVD presentations.

   Electronic collaboration process.


            In today’s rapidly changing workplace environments, conflict and change are formidable challenges to meet.  Both have the potential to greatly impact an organization’s workforce, and, ultimately, its bottom line.  Managers must possess an understanding of human behavior and an ability to create healthy, secure work environments.  They must also be able to meet the needs of individual employees, while still achieving organizational goals.  Exemplary leaders understand that excellent management principles are vital for keeping pace in a rapidly changing world.  They know these principles are the tools that help to create empowered employees and strong organizations.

Works Cited


  1. Bartiromo, Maria.  “The Roofer’s Son.”  The Reader’s Digest.  Sept. 2007:  71-74.

  2.  Bence, Allen. Managing Organizational Behavior. 2006  

  3.  Brown, Bettina L.  Conflict Management Trends and Issues Alert. 1998. 22 Aug 2007

  4. Bulleit, Barbara. Effectively Managing Team Conflict.  2006

  5. Dewa, Carolyn S. Ph.D., M.P.H., Goldner, Elliot M.D., M.H.Sc., Kooehoorn, Mieke Ph.D., and Lin, Elizabeth. Ph.D.

  6. Fernandez, Kathryn. Conflict Resolution Head Start Bulletin 2002. 22 Aug 2007

  7. Gale, Thomas. Organizational Behavior ForumEncyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed. 2006

  8. Hersey, Paul, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior.  Prentice Hall: New Jersey 2001.

  9. LaMontague, Anthony D. and Noblet, Andrew. The Role of Workplace Health Promotion in Addressing Job Stress Sept 2005

  10. Linden, Michael and Muschalla, Beate. Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation Aug 2006

  11. Mind Tools, LTD.  Problem Solving Techniques. Cause and Effect Diagram. 1995-2007 Edition

  12. Naylor, Thomas H., William H. Willimon, and Rolf Osterberg.  The Search for Meaningin the Workplace.  Eugene:  Wipf and Stock, 2002.

  13. Ratzburg, Wilf H. Personality and Organizational Behavior. 10 Oct 2002

  14. Stevens, Craig. Westbrook. The Linked Management Models 2007. 22 Aug 2007  3.htm.  

  15. Stevens, Craig A., and Michael Moore.  Geronimo Stone:  His Music, His Love, and the Mobile of Excellent Management.  Coral Springs:  Llumina, 2006.

  16. Jenio, Frank. Training and Development 2007 22 Aug 2007 

  17. Walton, Mary.  The Deming Management Method.  New York:  Berkley, 1986.



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