Resolving Conflict

Tony Alessandra and Phil Hunsaker (Citation: 2005)

By allowing you to identify sources of conflict, this report will help you understand how to encourage healthy disagreement without spiraling down into a negative conflict.

EN: In all, I'm undecided about the value of the material that follows. I don't think the author has done quite enough development or consideration and, in some instances, is not contributing anything that is no self-evident. While I accept his intentions are to provide advice for effectively but gently managing conflict, sometimes it borders on (or outright advocates) passive-aggressive and manipulative patterns of behavior, and as such should be regarded with some discretion.

EN: For better treatment of the same topic, see Mastering Business Negotiation.

The Nature of Conflict

The term "conflict" has a negative connotation, and most people seek to avoid it in both their professional and personal lives. However, conflict is a natural element of human interaction - there are few instances in which all involved are in complete agreement - and the most productive goal is not one of avoidance, but of seeking resolution. The author also mentions the emotional component, in which an individual becomes locked into a position from which they refuse to budge.

EN: the author suggests conflict would not occur only in an "Orwellian world where all of our minds and emotions work in perfect unison." That's not an accurate interpretation on Orwell, who depicts a world in which people are motivated out of fear to accept the demands of central authority without question or objection. But it occurs to me he is unintentionally correct: people who are made to accept the will of a dominant authority (a totalitarian government, an abusive parent, a corrupt bureaucrat) generally have no conflict among themselves ... which is something to be acutely aware of in any action where everyone seems to be in agreement.

The negative side of conflict results from a failure of cooperation: the parties cannot come to an agreement, tension ignites. This destroys the working relationship and ensures that the decision made does not reflect consensus. The positive side of conflict is a careful consideration of alternatives, arriving at a solution that has been considered by a number of individuals and concluded to be the most productive (or acceptable) outcome.

Conflict is central to organizations, which depend on a group of people working together to achieve a common purpose that capitalizes on their combined expertise. It is not necessarily a competitive event in which some parties "win" at the expense of others, but a process by which people collaborate toward a common end that benefits the organization as a whole.

The get more concrete, the author provides a working definition of a conflict: a situation in which two or more people have a disagreement driven by a clash of goals, perceptions, and/or values and seek to .arrive at a conclusion acceptable to all involved.

The author lists a handful of common sources of conflict within organization:

The Four Phases of Conflict

The author refers to another source (Loius Pondy), who identifies four "phases" of conflict:

As a conflict proceeds through the stages, people become more locked into their positions and a win-lose mentality, making the conflict harder to resolve. Hence, the need to recognize and address conflict early.

Strategies for Managing Conflict

The author lists some strategies for managing conflict, suggesting that each has advantages and disadvantages, and deciding on a course largely depends on the conflict, the players, and their environment.

EN: This seems a bit omissive, and seems to be loaded to drive the conclusion that collaboration is always the best solution, and that collaboration is always possible, which is naive.

Four Basic Components of Collaboration

The author suggests that there are four "components" or requirements for collaboration:

EN: This likewise seems in need of further development: the topics seem to overlap and the descriptions are hazy at best. The author suggests a need for the two parties to present their interests, accept the interests of the other, and work together for a common solution, in a manner both honest and earnest.

The Confrontation Continuum

A bit more on "confrontation" - the author means an open discussion of the interests of both parties and the process of identifying where they can work together for a common solution, in a non-competitive way. The author provides a number of "strategies" to make confrontation a positive experience.

When it comes to making changes, it's an important note that people generally are willing to change behaviors when they perceive a benefit to themselves, so attempt to express the benefit of a change or an action in terms of the benefit to the other party rather than yourself (EN: this seems a bit manipulative and disingenuous).

The author also provides a few random tips: ensuring that the other party is open to discussion (an example is given of "bad timing"), focusing on the present and the future (rather than the past), and being open to discussing the emotional portent (the example, again, seems a bit like passive-aggressive behavior: your behavior makes me "feel" a certain way, and therefore you should change it).

Of importance is to face confrontations. Some reasons cited for avoidance are uncertainty over outcome, the emotional reaction of others, a refusal to compromise on one's own position, or social rejection by the individual or others.

A danger area is in the assumptions we make based on our beliefs about the values and interests of others. In many instances, a statement about another person's character (that they are lazy, ignorant, dishonest, etc.) is the result of a person's neglect to consider what the interests and motivations of others might be. Beyond the problem of professionalism, adopting such a mindset prevents more productive consideration and negotiation.

Strategies to Avoid

The author lists a number of strategies (more like tactics, or behaviors) to avoid, as they tend to escalate rather than resolve conflict:

Minimization is the dismissal of a concern as being unimportant. It can take the form of a sarcastic remark to dismiss it or simply a statement that the concern is not important, most commonly with the substitution of another concern that is more important (e.g., ignore quality, we need to hit our deadline).

Blame is common in organizational politics, either to escape blame for the situation or to mitigate the blame if the outcome of the present action is unsatisfactory. Blame focuses on the past, which is never productive.

"Unloading" is a common behavior when people have worked together repeatedly - issues that are not germane to the current conflict are dragged onto the table. This may be a tactic to win a concession or muddle the issue at hand with unrelated ones.

The "low blow" is a tactic to elicit an emotional response to cloud another party's judgment, generally done to provoke an emotional reaction that will damage their credibility. IT generally takes the form of a personal attack.

Manipulation is the use of threats or concessions that are not germane to the issue at hand in order to control the behavior of others (a manager mentioning an upcoming personnel review when trying to convince an employee to work late).

Force is a demand that is stated with conviction, and the other party is meant to concede without argument or discussion. It is commonly done by those in positions of authority, but can often be pulled off by anyone who can speak with conviction.

Conflict Resolution Behaviors

The author lists a number of behaviors that will help resolve conflict "in almost any situation you encounter"


The author merely restates his thesis: that a conflict is a form of "healthy disagreement" that, if handled appropriately, can lead to a positive outcome and a better relationship with the parties involved. It is worth considering even when the conflict is "small," because that lays a foundation for greater cooperation when a more serious conflict arises.