Conflict Management Style

Should conflict be eliminated from the workplace? What do we mean by the term conflict? Holding different values, being motivated by different objectives,differing ideological, philosophical, or strategic orientations; all of these create the potential for conflict.

Stated simply, "Conflict is a differing of ideas"; people see things differently. Conflict exists in all aspects of human behavior and is a natural part of the human condition. Research shows it is from the sharing of differing viewpoints (conflict) that creativity unfolds.

The question is this: "How should one view conflict and how should one deal with it?" For the manner in which one responds to and manages the dynamics of conflict determines the success of the enterprise.

Relationships and Personal Goals

Two basic considerations generally determine which action alternatives we use in a given conflict situation:

1. The degree to which one is concerned about the preservation of one's personal relationships.
2. The degree the issues involved might collide with one's personal goals or viewpoints.

These are the determining factors of our idvidual style when it comes to dealing with conflict and are the two basic dimensions of the conflict management model. And the degree of concern we have for one or the other, or both, will determine the actions we see as appropriate for dealing with conflict.

(A detailed summary of these concepts can be found in our Conflict Management Survey learning instrument.)

A Model of Conflict Management

Our two-dimensional approach to conflict management is potrayed graphically in the figure above.  As indicated, concern for the relationship is represented along the vertical axis of the model, while concern for personal goals is depicted along the horizontal axis. 

A conflict management style based on maximum concern for personal goals coupled with minimum concern for the relationship would be shown as  a 9/1 style.  By pairing the two concerns and their value combinations, we can identify five "pure" styles, each of which reflects a different system of values.  More importantly, each results in different consequences in terms of conflict dynamics.

(Please refer to the Conflict Management Survey for in-depth explanations of each of the five styles.)

Backup Styles and Research

The fact that a person prefers a given style does not mean he or she will not use other styles.  Indeed, our model assumes that everyone uses each of the styles at one time or another.  Moreover, we usually have a preferred order in which we resort to other styles but will naturally use our most preferred style first.

Research in the social sciences has revealed that the five different approaches to conflict management have different long-range consequences. Without dwelling on the research, we can say that the findings suggest an ideal ordering of style preferences which is the 9/9 synergistic style being the most productive conflict management style and the 1/1 being the least productive style.  In-depth discussion of all styles can be found the Conflict Management Survey.

The Conflict Management Survey and Conflict Management Appraisal

The Conflict Management Survey is a self-survey that can be used to identify one's preferred conflict management style as well as the back-up styles one tends to use in conflict situations.  It also includes an indepth explanation of how these styles tend to either be productive or unproductive and ideas on how to make positive changes in the way we handle conflict. 

Feedback from coworkers can be invaluable in determining one's style.  The Conflict Management Appraisal is the feedback companion instrument to the CMS and is useful in understanding how others percieve one's conflict management style.

Partial list of customers using the CMS and CMA Learning Instruments:

Industry and Public Sector:
Eastman Chemical - Kraft Foods - ALCOA - Microsoft - Allied Health - Abbot Labs - General Mills - Various Independent School Districts - Various Governmental Agencies

Business Schools:
Wharton School  - Pepperdine University - Princeton University