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Managing Conflict


“Emotional Intelligence” Study Conducted at Bell Laboratory


Most Trusted and Valued Employees:

  • Not Because of IQ 

  • Not Because of Academic Background 

  • Not Because of Beauty and Strength 

Because of Ability to Get Along with Others

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D..., Author of “Emotional Intelligence”




Conflict means people care …it is a process to be managed, not eliminated!!






Role of Conceptualization in Conflicts

  • We each see things differently. 

  • We form perceptions of conflict’s source and intentions. 

  • With no feedback the other position appears to be totally arbitrary. 

  • Since WE are always rational the conflict spirals -- unless…



Each style has a time and place when it is the correct style to use.





by Camilla Allen and Lisa Reasonover


Conflict is something that usually occurs when people disagree and/or have differing views. Conflicts of one sort or another occur daily for various reasons. Many times conflict results from differences in facts – this type of conflict centers on what is or what is not; methods – this stems from disagreement about procedures and about how something is done; goals/objectives – is the disagreement about what is to be accomplished; and values – this conflict stems from disagreement about what is right or wrong. The other causes of conflict result from the use of power or position, lack of time, money, or other resources. While many people attempt to avoid conflict at all cost, conflict is unavoidable in the workplace. Conflict is a normal part of everyday life on the job or off.

The existence of conflict does not necessarily mean a situation is negative. Many positive outcomes result from conflict. Conflict sparks dialogue, awareness, and a respect for differences that create an opportunity to resolve issues. In the workplace today, employees tend to do more work in team situations and the workforce is becoming more diverse which leads to increased opportunities for conflict.

According to Brett Hart, “While it may seem, at times, that anything can start a conflict where you work, conflict typically stems from a limited number of causes.” (Hart 1) There are traditionally eight causes of conflict. The first cause is conflicting needs. Employees often have to compete for resources, recognition and power, which ultimately leads to some type of conflict. The employees ‘without’ resources and power nearly always complain and disagree with the employees ‘with’ resources and power. The second cause is conflicting styles. All employees have individual ideas of how to handle situations and typically, no two employees agree on the same way. The third cause is conflicting perceptions. Perceptions are a lot like styles and all individuals view them in different ways. When the perception received is wrong, it results in conflict. The fourth cause is conflicting goals. This conflict usually occurs when two or more employees are responsible for different duties in achieving the same goal. The fifth is conflicting pressures. This can occur when two or more employees are responsible for separate actions with the same deadline. The sixth cause is conflicting roles. Conflicting roles occur when an employee has to perform outside of his or her job description. The seventh is different personal values. Differing values can lead to untruths that cause conflict. A major cause of this type of conflict is the new diversified workforce. The eighth cause of conflict is unpredictable policies. If company policies are changed or applied inconsistently, it often leads to misunderstandings. To avoid this type of conflict companies should have clear, documented policies in place.

Defusing conflict in the workplace requires cooperation on the part of the employee as well as the employer. Resolving disputes internally is beneficial to both parties as well. One possible method is a successful peer review program. Richard D. Fincher, a huge fan of peer review, suggests that the following benefits result from peer review:

  • “Employees generally find resolutions that are handed down by peers to be credible and acceptable.”

  • “The model is practical and cost-effective.”

  • “Peer review allows employee disputes to be resolved internally—not in court or before other external tribunals.” (Clark 2)

There are three levels of conflict and they are warm, simmering, and boiling. When the conflict has reached the level of warm, the conflict is not a big deal to one of the parties involved in the conflict. He/she may view the other person involved in the conflict as a daily irritation. The atmosphere portrayed is positive and the willingness to talk and/or listen is greater at this level. In this level, there is optimism, cooperation, specific language, and a solution agreed upon openly.

In the simmering stage, one person feels more resentment toward the other persons involved in the conflict. The atmosphere is hostile and feels as if you cut through the air with a knife. When the persons involved in the conflict reach this stage, it is finger pointing, absolutes are used, and an emphasis on winning and not losing. He/she may use absolutes by using never and always in his/her discussions and the appearance is crucial – we look good, they look bad.

The boiling stage of conflict is a level of revenge. The atmosphere at this level is and can be dangerous. He/she may feel the need to inflict pain, eliminate the other persons involved, and a need to retaliate. During this stage of conflict, there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope for resolution without mediation and/or arbitration.

In the workplace, people view conflict as a negative, but it can become a positive if workable solutions result. Conflict in the workplace happens within many organizations across the globe. How the conflict is resolved is the challenge for many employers. When conflict occurs between coworkers within an organization, it is necessary for the scene of the crime to be established. The first step in gathering information about the conflict is to identify the conflict, find out the resources, who is involved and who is not involved, and ask questions. Some ways to identify the conflict is to ask a few questions. What is the real issue? How committed am I to this (the greater the commitment, the more expression of anger will be displayed)? What is at stake (the greater the risk, the greater the expression of anger)? Will it be here 50 years from now? If the parties involved can answer these questions honestly, resolution is accomplished.

There are two phases to identifying the conflict, private phase and public phase. Private phase is when the parties involved pull themselves aside and take deep breaths prior to addressing the issues and asking three questions:

  • What is the specific action or behavior that is bothering me?

  • What is the feeling I’m choosing?, and

  • What is the reason for my feeling?

Public phase is more specific. It answers the private questions listed above to the other party so she will know where the conflict is stemming from. Knowing what the action or behavior is assists with knowing why the feeling was chosen.

Second, provide damage control. Give the perception of power by letting the parties involved know you are in control of the situation. This requires using body language, facial expression, and voice tone. Damage control requires listening effectively to the other party. By displaying an open posture, leaning forward into the other party to show you are interested in what he/she is saying, and by giving physical space to that person – not invading her own personal space demonstrates interest in the other party’s feelings. Giving encouraging gestures such as the nodding of the head, encouraging noises, and facial expression can also demonstrate interest. Listening attentively without interrupting what the other party has to say is displaying a form of concern toward their feelings and concerns. The last way to provide damage control is by reflecting on what the other party said. This entails clarifying with her what you think she said. Some simple questions could be, “Is this what you were saying (by telling her what she told you)?” “Is this what you are feeling (this is how the situation made you feel)?” “Is this what you are thinking (this is how the situation makes you feel)?” Showing interest in both sides of the conflict will help to resolve the conflict that is taking place.

Third, resolve the conflict by trying to solve the crime. Resolving the conflict can occur by getting the parties involved to negotiate or come to an agreement of the expectations. A way to do this is to establish common ground by offering this is what I want, what do you want? The next thing to do is modify the expectations so that it is easy to understand and comprehend. Once agreed upon, write these agreements of the expectations down and have the parties involved sign them. This can occur verbally, but having them in writing will be the best solution. This not only provides documentation that the parties involved agreed at the end of the open discussion of the conflict, but it will also remind all parties of the agreement.

With resolution come consequences, both positive and negative. To prevent some negative consequences to the resolution, a follow-up session scheduled with those involved to make sure that everyone is still in one accord. If those involved have achieved unity, give some positive feedback and award them for a job well done on their project assignment. If there is not unity, then review the agreement with both sides of the conflict and advise them that if this is not resolved within two weeks, there will be some serious repercussions (low performance rating, suspension, or pulled off a project).

Works Cited

  1. Beebe, Steven A., John T. Masterson. (2003). Communicating in Small Groups.

  2. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

  3. Clark, Margaret. “A Jury of Their Peers.” HR Magazine Jan 2004.

  4. Tubbs, Stewart L. (2004) A Systems Approach to Small Group Interaction. New
    York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin

  5. Behavioral Consultants. 10/24/06. Bret Hart, Ph. D. 11/2/06. Conflict In The Workplace. <>..


Camilla Allen, Senior Human Resource Assistant; Strategic Planning and Employee Development
Nashville Electric Service (NES).  Camilla has been with NES for 8 years and provides assistance for the employees’ training needs at NES. She has been successful in creating and implementing the career succession planning training curriculum. This program assists employees that have completed and obtained a bachelor of science degree. She has provided counseling to employees interested in returning to school to obtain a degree. She assists employees any way she can to get them on track. She also assists with the in-house training program that provides for supervision and professional development courses for all employees of the organization. She strives to make the Strategic Planning and Employee Development office one of the best sections in the Human Resources Department at NES. She is a member of the Administrative Support Team in the Human Resources Department. She is also a member of IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals).

Education:  Near completion of BS from Trevecca, A.S., Paralegal, Volunteer State Community College, A.S., Business, Aquinas Junior College Primetime.  Professional and Business Activities include, Membership in the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).

Administrative Assistant to the Vice President – Human Resources
Nashville Electric Service.  Lisa has been with NES for 18 years. During those 18 years, she has worked as an assistant to the operations manager for Underground & Substation where she provided administrative support, assisted with payroll functions, created and implemented training programs, created and maintained the departmental budget and worked with confidential information. She currently works as the assistant to the vice president of Human Resources. This position requires her to work in a highly confidential environment and in a direct relationship with the Electric Power Board and the CEO. The position requires taking the minutes of the Civil Service portion of the Power Board meetings, processing payroll, working with the four department managers to create and monitor HR programs, creating and maintaining the departmental budget, handling executive level background checks, recruiting candidates for executive level positions, and working on projects and assignments as they arise. 


Professional: Experience Assistant to the Vice President of Human Resources, Nashville Electric Service.  Education:  Attended Aquinas College, Middle Tennessee State University, and University of Phoenix. Anticipated Bachelor’s Degree from Trevecca Nazarene University – December 2006. Professional and Business Activities: Member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) - Nashville Chapter;  Member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); Third Party Instructor of CPR/First Aid – Nashville Chapter of American Red Cross; Member of Administrative Support Operations (ASO) Team – Nashville Electric Service


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