Conflict Article




Dear Reading 7 students

Look at the article below.

Since about conflict management for the next couple of weeks, we will learn a lot about ourselves and how to help others.

 Therefore, read following article: Conflict Management for Teams

 Please read the assignment and answer the following.


What is conflict?


What are the different conflict styles? - Describe them in your own words.


When is conflict most/more likely to happen? (Introduction)


How does culture play a role in conflict?


Try to find another article on conflict in the Internet or in the Library.  What are the different conflict styles according to the other author?

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Conflict Management for Teams

EDAD 345 Leadership & Organizational Theory

Renae Chesnut
Janette Serra

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Definition and Nature of Conflict
Conflict Management Styles
Interdependence of the Styles

The 1990s have brought a movement of creating a sense of community in the workplace (Zemke, 1996). Hegelsen (1996) has suggested that one of the ways to develop this virtue in organizations is to allow the formation of autonomous teams since they provide a source of fresh ideas, innovative solutions, and increased productivity (Technicomp, 1995, Wisinski, 1995). However, with the gathering of more than one individual, conflict is very likely to occur (Technicomp, 1995). Conflict within a team can have two outcomes: prevention of achieving goals or energizing to reach new heights of achievement. The difference lies in conflict management (Technicomp, 195). Burke (1970) found that the type of behavior with which a manager (leader) responds in a conflict situation has a significant impact on the management of the conflict (Rahim, 1989). Normally, the team leader smoothes over differences to address conflicts. However, this technique does not totally eradicate conflict, which only simmers until it is ready to explode again (Wisinski, 1995). The purpose of this paper is to present a healthy view of conflict, discuss different styles of handling conflict, and illustrate the interdependence between these styles and management of team conflict.

Definition and nature of conflict

Conflict is inevitable. While it is easy for many individuals to feelthat conflict is a destructive event (Bisno, 1988), that is not necessarily true. Conflict that is not identified, understood and managed effectively can lead to inefficient use of organizational resources (Rahim, 1989), stress and injury on the conflicting parties (Bisno, 1988; Rahim, 1989), rupturing of relationships within the organization (Bisno, 1988), and misdirection of the energies of those affected by the conflict situation (Rahim, 1989). On the other hand, conflict that is effectively managed can result in increased creativity, and a rethinking of goals and practices, a better informed and cohesive work group (Bisno, 1988; Rahim, 1989), and a reformed and renewed organization (Bisno, 1988). In this manner, Burns (1978) describes conflict as being intrinsically compelling: galvanizing, prodding, and motivating. Recent research has found the role of conflict to be to establish limits, channel hostility, counteract social ossification, invigorate class and group interests, encourage innovation, and define and empower leadership. In 1973 Deutsch maintained that conflict exists whenever incompatible activities action which prevents, obstructs, interferes with, injures, or in some way makes it less likely or less effective (Hocker & Wilmot, 1995).

Technicomp (1995) classifies conflict into three types: relational, task-related, or mixed. Relational issues are highly personal and revolve around differences in values, work habits, and communication styles. Task-related is impersonal and refers to ideas, meanings, issues, and procedures. Mixed conflicts includes both task-related and relational issues.

Culture frequently plays a role in the origin of conflict (Girard & Koch, 1996). Perceptions, expectations, behaviors, and communication patterns are all rooted in culture and the question is not whether or not the effect occurs, but what the effect is. When the other individuals’ culture codes are understood, conflict prevention and resolution can be more effective (Girard & Koch, 1996).

It is necessary to develop a conflict repertoire for dealing with gender considerations. One's gender and the gender of those with whom they are engaged in conflict affects their behavior in powerful ways (Hocker & Wilmot, 1995). One stereotype you often here is that women look for ways to avoid conflicts. Other stereotypes exists for men.

Some researchers (Hocker & Wilmot, 1995) maintain that all conflicts are built upon the parties' perception of incompatible goals. At first people assume that the other wants the same thing. As conflicts build the parties become aware of differences in their goals and may see the other person as an obstacle for their goal attainment. Conflict resolution can be obtained when both parties find common ground and work from there.

One of the fundamental concepts in conflict theory is power.Aa seemingly unequal power situation can lead to antagonism. However, conflicts involving power does not have to be destructive. constructive conflict management almost always depends on the search for power with others (Hocker & Wilmot, 1995).

The question then is not the inevitability of conflict but the how leaders can express, shape and curb it (Burns, 1978). Burns (1978) states that leaders shape as well as express and mediate conflict. These individuals act as a trigger in the conversion process of conflicting demands, values, and goals into significant behaviors (Burns, 1978). Therefore, conflict management is an important skill for leaders to possess.

Conflict management styles

People differ in the management of conflict situations. In a given team, extremes may exist where one member is very aggressive, causing small disagreements to escalate into major arguments while another member may avoid conflict by not engaging into the discussion at all (Sillars, 1996). To gain a better understanding of the interpersonal conflicts that exist within teams, an assessment of the styles of conflict management must be examined. A number of researchers and practitioners have determined five basic management styles that individuals will use when dealing with conflict (Sashkin, 1995); McMahon, 1994; Sillars, 1996). Conflict styles are patterned responses or clusters of behaviors that people use in conflict (Hocker & Wilmot, 1995). These conflict styles are described as avoiding, competing, accommodating, compromising, and collaborating. It is important to realize that no style is wrong, but that appropriate situations exist depending on the objective (Technicomp, 1995).


This management style is characterized by the individual(s) withdrawing (Sashkin, 1995), giving up personal goals and relationships, staying away from issues involving conflict (McMahon, 1994), changing the subject, and joking (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991). McMahon refers to this style as the “Turtle”. A study by Drake, Zammuto, and Parasuaman (1982) supports the belief that workers engaged in conflict with a superior most likely to respond in an avoidance or obliging behavior (Rahim, 1989). Certain cultures may differ in their valuing of avoidance as well (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991).

Rahim (1989) and Sashkin (1995) report that short-term avoidance may be a very effective way to deal with a conflict situation in order to permit time for one or both of the parties to regain their composure and rationally think through the issues and circumstances of the conflict situation. Other appropriate uses of the avoiding style include the situation being considered a trivial issue, the individual has low power, more information needs to be gathered, a more basic issue exists, damage is imminent, the costs are too great, accessible resources are inadequate, and one’s objectives are not appropriate or legitimate (Bisno, 1988; Girard & Koch, 1996; McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995) .

Disadvantages to the avoiding style exist and include a risk for the conflict to continue or escalate, the relationship to be endangered, or the reputation to be harmed (Technicomp, 1995; Iowa Peace Institute, 1996). The avoiding style is frequently misinterpreted as lack of caring or unexpressed discord


The accommodating conflict management style is a smoothing gesture where the relationship is considered much greater than an individual’s own goals (Iowa Peace Institute, 1996; McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995). McMahon (1994) compares this style to a teddy bear, which may be considered a lose-win situation. This style may result in one’s own needs being ignored (Technicomp, 1995) in the interest of being accepted and liked (McMahon, 1994). Individuals who consistently use this style emphasize the areas of agreement while downplaying areas of disagreement (Technicomp, 1995).

Appropriate uses of this style are situations where the issue is not as important as the relationship (Sashkin, 1995; Technicomp, 1995), the individual realizes that he/she is wrong (Girard & Koch, 1996), is losing or has less power, feels that preserving harmony is important, realizes that subordinates need to experiment and learn from their own mistakes, senses that he/she needs social credits for more important future issues (McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995), and one party needs special consideration (Iowa Peace Institute, 1996).


Compromising as a conflict management style has been compared with a fox (McMahon, 1994) and appears when the individual is interested in both goals and relationships equally (McMahon, 1994; Technicomp, 1995). McMahon (1994) describes this style as an individual keeping the common good in mind in which he/she seeks a solution where each side gives up some of their goals but yet meets in the middle for both to gain something (McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995; Technicomp, 1995). However, the “fair” solution frequently does not address the real, underlying needs of the parties. This could then be referred to as a win-win, lose-lose situation (Technicomp, 1995).

This style is most effective when the issue and relationship are both only moderately important (Girard & Koch, 1996; McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995; Technicomp, 1995), there is plenty of time (Technicomp, 1995), a temporary solution is sought (McMahon, 1994), a fixed amount of resources is under contention (Iowa Peace Institute, 1996), both sides have equal power (Sashkin, 1995) and as a back-up mode when collaboration or competition fails (McMahon, 1994).


Collaborating as a conflict management style values both goals and relationships and both parties realize the achievement of their goals (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991; McMahon, 1994). This win-win situation improves relationships since both parties favor working together to reach a mutually advantageous solution (Technicomp, 1995). This style often takes more energy, patience, and time than other styles, but produces the most satisfaction (Iowa Peace Institute, 1996). It occurs when the parties confront the conflict and not each other (Sashkin, 1995). While other types of conflict management assume the size of the pie is finite, collaborative tactics assume that the size of the entire pie can be increased (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991).

This style is particularly helpful when the issue is important to both parties (Girard & Koch, 1996; Sashkin, 1995; Technicomp, 1995), the relationship is valued (Technicomp, 1995), time is available (Technicomp, 1995), commitment by the other party is needed (McMahon, 1994, Sashkin, 1995), hard feelings exist (McMahon, 1994), the individual’s objective is to learn and understand the views of others (Sashkin, 1995), and different perspectives need to be merged (McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995).

One of the disadvantages to this style is that individuals sometimes use it exclusively and disapprove of other conflict individuals not using it (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991). Other disadvantages that occur with collaboration is that it takes time and is ineffective if communication is lacking (Technicomp, 1995).


The competing style of conflict management is manifested by an attempt to force opponents to accept the solution (Sashkin, 1995) much like a shark (McMahon, 1994). This style often results in a win-lose situation and the individual may be described as aggressive (Technicomp, 1995), overwhelming, intimidating, and overpowering (McMahon, 1994). These individuals have prioritized goals as more important than relationships which is displayed by their concern of achieving goals rather than meeting the needs of others (Technicomp, 1994, McMahon, 1994).

Appropriate uses of the competing style are when the outcome is more important than the relationship (Iowa Peace Institute, 1996). This may occur when quick, decisive action is vital, (e.g., emergencies), an unpopular course of action (e.g., discipline) is necessary, the individual is sure they are right, or a need for protection exists from another’s “shark” behavior (Girard & Koch, 1996; McMahon, 1994; Sashkin, 1995). This style is only effective when you are right and have power (Technicomp, 1995). Caution exists with this style as a reputation for “bullying” may develop if it is used too often (Technicomp, 1995).

Interdependence of the styles: Addressing the conflict

Girard & Koch (1996) state that each of the conflict management styles has its appropriate uses. Depending on the situation and the individuals involved, a different conflict management style may be preferred (Girard & Koch, 1996; McMahon, 1994; Technicomp, 1995). Conflict management may have multiple and diverse outcomes since different people, groups, and interests are the sources of the conflict (Bisno, 1988). Rahim (1989) found that managers will try different response styles if their original response fails to resolve the conflict. Therefore, Bisno (1988) encourages leaders to maintain a broad and long-sighted perspective which includes the other outcomes besides winning, relationship and ethical considerations. A leader’s goal is to understand which one he/she most often uses and which styles should be strengthened.

While many individuals are able to adapt their conflict management style, others may be stuck in just one style. Signs that this is occurring include living up to labels (e.g. “fireball”, “judge”, “bulldog”), reaction in a similar manner from different people, one conflict style is frequently used and is the only one that feels natural, or the same pattern is frequently used (Hocker & Wilmot, 1991). Individuals who adapt to various situations with different conflict management styles are more effective.

Technicomp (1995) has developed a decision chart listing a series of questions that may be asked in analyzing a conflict situation to help leaders determine appropriate conflict management styles. These are:

  1. Is the issue important to you?
  2. Is the issue important to them?
  3. Is the relationship important to you?
  4. Is there a time pressure?

The combination of the answers to these questions arrives at a conflict management style that is best suited for the situation and the individual’s own objectives. Hocker and Wilmot (1991) report that rewards for developing a repertoire of conflict styles are to be able to see other’s behaviors more rationally, deal more effectively with the issue at hand, and adapt to changing conditions and other people’s personalities.

Once the situation has been defined and analyzed, appropriate communications are necessary to provide the base of the conflict management (Technicomp, 1995) . The effectiveness of communication can be improved when positive reinforcement is seen for areas of agreement, nonverbal messages are consistent with verbal communications, clarification of inferences is sought, subtle messages are amplified, intense messages are tempered (Bisno, 1988), cultural sensitivity exists, emotions are managed (Girard & Koch, 1996), “I” messages are used, and active listening occurs (Technicomp, 1995). Active listening refers to “listening” with undivided attention for content and feelings, “attending” with nonverbal behaviors that indicate listening, and “responding” with paraphrasing and open questions (Technicomp, 1995).


As collaborative teams become a larger part of working organizations today, conflict is inevitable which instills the need to develop conflict management skills. Conflict is defined as two people having different goals and can be classified as relational, task-oriented, or mixed. Five different styles of conflict management exist: avoiding, accommodating, compromising, collaborating, and competing. Each style has advantages and disadvantages making it appropriate for individual situations. By asking key questions regarding the situation, individuals can assess which management style might be the most appropriate. Underlying each management style are communication concepts that need to be followed to allow for successful transmission of the style.

Individuals who consider the various conflict management styles, communicate them effectively, and remain flexible to adapt will help their teams to be more effective. Therefore there is no need to fear or avoid conflict. Instead it can work for teams to improve their work life and build a stronger cohesiveness.


Bisno, H. (1988). Managing Conflict. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications.

Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. Harper Row.

Girard, K., & Koch, S.J. (1996). Conflict resolution in the schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hegelsen, S. (1996). Leading from the grass roots. In The Leader of the Future (Eds.), Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., & Beckhard, R. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hocker, J.L., & Wilmot, W.W. (1991). Interpersonal conflict. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

Iowa Peace Institute. Conflict Management. Workshop on conflict management and consensus building presented July, 1996.

McMahon, (1994). Leadership & Conflict Resolution. Presentation at 1994 Leadership Camp.

Rahim, M.A. (1989). Managing conflict: An interdisciplinary approach. New York: Praeger.

Sashkin, M. (1995). Conflict Style Inventory.

Sillars, A. (1996). Understanding yourself and others in conflict situations. [On-line], Available:

Technicomp (1995). Conflict Management for Teams. Cleveland, OH: Author.

Wisinski, J. (1995). What to do about conflicts? Supervisory Management, Mar.

Zemke, R. (1996). The call of community. Training, Mar, 24-30.

Suggested Reading

Windmueller, J (1996). Conflict analysis and resolution bookshelf. [On-line], Available:


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This page was last updated Tuesday, January 09, 2007 10:06