Conflict Management Readings Analysis Psychology Paper


Deadline May 28: Conflict Management Readings AnalysisDue May 28, the content of the Week 1-5 Harvard reading assignments is the focus of this essay. Synthesize the content of these five articles into a two-page (minimum) report to the president of a national healthcare organization of which you are employed. The usual formatting rules apply. Citations and references are expected. Citations must be correctly formatted for APA style. There is a post at the top section of this Moodle page showing you the three forms of parenthetical citations and a citation format to use for direct quotes, as well as a checklist of steps for essays. In this communique, you will try to convince the president of a healthcare organization of which you are employed that there are strong rationale and numerous best practices to draw upon in structuring a new company-wide initiative to effectively manage conflict and dispute resolution. Your essay should answer questions such as: Why do we need to do this? How will it benefit us to create this understanding? What are the advantages of creating a policy and implementation plan?For the exclusive use of C. OPARA, 2023.
No. U9707A
Don’t Avoid Conflicts—
Manage Them
by Monci J. Williams
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Don’t Avoid Conflicts—Manage Them
by Monci J. Williams
Got a good reason for taking
the easy way out?
Well of course we do. The lady in the
Lennon-McCartney lyric had a character flaw: She was “a day tripper,”
someone who avoided entanglement
by skipping out. When it comes to
conflict and its avoidance, we each
have our own reasons. There are people and institutional issues, that
will—if we let them—soak up our
time and attention like a sponge. Most
of us are hard-wired to experience tension at even the whiff of trouble, a
reflex that prepares us to fight or flee
when threatened. And any obstacle
between us and the 63 tasks we must
complete by Friday (no, Thursday; it’s
a short week) looms as an annoyance.
So we do have a good reason for taking the easy way out: It’s expedient.
Or so we think. But here comes (yet)
another important insight in the life of
a Post-Modern Manager, one that may
enable him or her to make a quantum
leap in productivity and effectiveness.
Ducking conflict, say the experts, may
actually make it harder for us to
achieve our goals.
Conflict arises from people’s needs,
and needs unmet do not go away. They
just lie in wait for the next opportunity
to express themselves, which in organizational life usually means they will
continue to get in the way of something we want or need to get done.
Says Ellen Raider, director of training
in the International Center for
Cooperation and Conflict Resolution
at Columbia University, “When conflict is riding, energy is directed away
from tasks, and engaged instead in
interpersonal issues. If you manage
the conflict, people are freed to put
their focus back on the tasks.”
Edna Adler, a colleague of Raider’s
who does conflict resolution training
in New York City, views conflict management skills as productivity tools.
“Premature agreements, made before
conflict is aired and resolved, don’t
last,” she says. Yes, a powerful manager may be able to push through a
compromise that doesn’t fully address
long-term business issues or individual ego needs. But he—or his
subordinates—will likely spend a lot
of time patching up the parts of the
agreement that keep coming unglued.
“There is a difference between compliance and commitment,” says
Raider. “When one person is compelled to a premature agreement in
which his needs are not met, he is
going to get you back. He may sabotage you passive-aggressively, by
foot-dragging and stalling. Or he may
just get you in the back.”
Intramural fratricide aside, negotiating
conflict is more fundamental to the
work of the manager than ever. In the
age of the flat organization, “managers are constantly negotiating
with colleagues about rights and
resources,” observes Michael Wheeler,
a professor of management at Harvard
Business School. Wheeler co-directs
the Dispute Resolution Project at
the Program on Negotiation, a collaboration between Harvard, MIT, and
Sorting out responsibilities and
resources has increasingly become
the work of teams. But consultants,
academics, trainers, and battle-decorated team veterans all note that teams
usually do beautifully only until they
bump up against their first conflict.
“For all the cheerful talk about team
building,” says Wheeler, “unless we
find creative ways to resolve conflict,
the imperative to work together can be
a burden.”
The best way to deal with conflict
effectively is to radically change the
way you think about it. Mary Parker
Follett, a fabled management theorist,
writer, and consultant, laid down the
foundation for modern thinking about
the resolution of conflict more than
60 years ago. Follett suggested we
“think of conflict as neither good
nor bad . . . not as warfare, but as
the appearance of difference.”
Furthermore, Follett said, since
“conflict—difference—is here in
the world . . . instead of condemning
it, we should set it to work for us.”
Follett viewed the appearance of
differences as an opportunity to
improve things that weren’t working.
Surprisingly, and correctly, Follett
said that compromise was unlikely
to be the optimal solution to a problem, an observation that was echoed
decades later in research on the effectiveness of collaborative versus competitive approaches to negotiation, and
in management theorist Herbert A.
Simon’s Nobel-prize winning work
on managerial decisionmaking and
Again anticipating the work (and
some of the buzz words) of today’s
consultants, Follett condemned compromise as a mediocre response, and
suggested that we aim for “breakthrough” solutions in which “neither
side has to sacrifice anything” and the
desires of both sides are “integrated.”
That’s sometimes easier done than
one might think, as Follett illustrated
with the story of a dairy cooperative
that nearly fell apart because of a
relatively trivial fight over delivery rituals. The creamery was built on the
side of a hill, and the dairymen whose
route to the dairy took them down the
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Managing Conflict . . .
hill thought they should unload their
milk first. The dairymen whose route
took them up the hill thought their
unloading should take precedence.
An expedient solution, a compromise
designed to reduce the amount of time
spent on conflict, might entail giving
each group a chance to “go first” by
alternating deliveries. It took a mediator to suggest the optimal solution:
Change the position of the platform so
that both groups of dairymen could
“go first,” unloading their milk cans
at the same time.
True, some conflicts cannot be
resolved unless one party, or both,
give something up. And some conflicts can never be resolved because
one or more of the parties would
rather fight than work things out.
But if you wish to proceed from the
idea that you and your partner(s) in
conflict can have it all, a breakthrough
solution that satisfies everyone, these
additional tips from the experts should
What people demand is not
necessarily what they must have
to be satisfied.
The difference between the two lies
in the distinction between “positions”
taken in a dispute and “underlying
needs.” Conflict resolution trainers
use “the orange,” another classic
Follett example, to illustrate. A mother
has two children and one orange. The
children are fighting over the orange,
so the mother cuts it in half and gives
a half to each. But as it turned out,
while one child was hungry and
wanted to eat the fruit, the other child
wanted only the rind, so she could
make candied orange peels. Each
party got half of what it wanted when
both could have been fully satisfied.
The story illustrates a classic bungle
in problem solving—the failure to
probe for the real underlying need or
want. Advice from the experts: Don’t
assume you understand what’s going
on. Find out, by asking questions,
proposing alternative solutions, and
exploring the responses of all parties.
If you’re in a negotiation, don’t
think your main task is to assert
your needs. Your first job is to
understand the other party.
The next time you see a conflict
boiling up, you may notice that both
parties repeatedly assert their own
needs and wishes, and tell each other
why the other guy is wrong. The
experts call this the “attack/defend
spiral,” and it’s where most of us
flame out.
Conflict resolution trainers recommend using neutral “opening” and
“informing” statements to encourage
the other person to open up. Comments such as “I know we’ve both
been very concerned about X, but I
also noticed that Y is very important
to you; I’d like to understand that better” encourage the other person to talk
about her concerns and wants. Get in
the habit of seeing the other person’s
position and demands as valid.
Concentrate on common
interests, not differences.
Focusing first on the ways in which
you are “at one” with your opponent
will bring you closer to agreement.
Discussing differences without defining—and returning—to common
ground will widen the gap between
Get to know your own hot
buttons and needs.
What we bring to a conflict—suspicion, anger, the conviction we can’t
win—may drive the conflict in directions we become helpless to correct.
To cite an example based on a realworld situation, a male economist
moved from the No. 2 slot running
the economic forecasting department
of a large money management firm to
take over the forecasting department
at a slightly smaller competitor. His
new subordinate, a highly competent
economist, had researched and written
her forecasts with little interference
from her old boss. But her new boss
second-guessed every draft she gave
him, and she was forced to spend
hours rewriting her work. With each
barrage of skeptical feedback, her irritability increased.
The two were experiencing a clash
in identity needs. She had a strong
need for autonomy and deep pride of
authorship. But he derived a strong
sense of himself from his nose for
trends, and from his previous department’s track records for accurate
forecasting. For situations like these,
Roger Fisher and William Ury,
authors of Getting to Yes, suggest
stepping back—which they call
“retiring to the balcony”—to get an
overview of what’s really happening
during a conflict.
A view from the balcony might make
clear to the female economist that her
new boss wasn’t attacking her competence. He was, for legitimate reasons,
merely asserting his own. She might
explore giving him an outline before
she writes her drafts, and dropping in
to exchange intelligence so she can
integrate his thinking into her writing.
Just to complicate matters:
Remember that there are times
when avoiding conflict is the right
thing to do.
Some conflicts do dissolve with time.
Some institutional issues may be
bigger than you and your antagonist,
resolvable only by senior management, leaving you and your colleagues
to work around it.
Whether you go around a conflict
or tackle it head on, the range and
desirability of the solutions you create
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Managing Conflict . . .
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will expand if you make a considered
choice on how you respond. The work
of the manager is made more complex
by the diffusion of authority and
competition for resources in the flat
organization. But however changed,
the game still belongs to those who
think through what they are doing,
how others are likely to react, and
why. ■
If you want to learn more . . .
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement
without Giving In by Roger Fisher and
William Ury (1981, Viking Penguin,
161 pp., $8.95, Tel. 800-526-0275)
Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of
Management, edited by Pauline Graham
(1995, Harvard Business School Press,
309 pp., $29.95, Tel. 800-988-0886 or
No Contest: The Case Against Competition
by Alfie Kohn (1992, Houghton Mifflin,
320 pp., $11.95, Tel. 800-526-0275)
■ Reprint # U9707A
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HBSP Product Number TCG316
Note on Conflict Management
President Franklin D. Roosevelt . . . attempted to generate information by recruiting strong personalities
and structuring their work so that clashes would be certain. His favorite technique was to keep grants of
authority incomplete, jurisdictions uncertain, and charters overlapping.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.1
It is a well-known fact of organizational life that sales people think differently from manufacturing people. Similarly, doctors think differently from nurses, R&D engineers think differently
from product line managers, professors think differently from deans, and basic researchers think
differently from applied researchers. In part, these differences are personality driven, but in those
instances where organizational (as distinct from interpersonal) conflict emerges, the participants
usually are from different occupational groups. These groups have differing time horizons for
measuring their performance, differing degrees of tolerance for ambiguity in their jobs, and, more
generally, highly contrasting demands put upon them by their work environments. As a result, they
approach organizational decision-making from vastly different perspectives.
For example, a sales manager’s work environment may be driven by factors such as quarterly
revenue quotas, shifting customer preferences, established customers who want preferential treatment, and potential new customers who may be testing the organization’s capabilities by, say, asking for a small order on a tight time schedule. Sales people also may deal with customers who are
moving toward or have established just-in-time manufacturing or product availability strategies, and
who therefore demand rapid delivery schedules. In short, sales managers and their staffs face an
uncertain and frequently turbulent environment.
By contrast, the typical plant manager’s environment is one of tight production schedules, machine performance concerns, externally imposed work standards, and a wide variety of cost and
quality considerations. Plant managers tend to dislike turbulence, preferring instead predictability
and order.
When these worlds collide, as they do when, say, sales has a small rush order for a potentially
valuable customer that will disrupt the plant’s schedule, there is certain to be friction. There also is
friction when a physician wants time to do a thorough diagnostic workup on a patient while the
nurse must respond to the family’s request for information on the patient’s condition. And there is
friction when marketing wants to get a product to market quickly while R&D wants more time to
perfect its features. The Microsoft mantra, “Can we ship it yet?” in reference to a new software
product, is reflective of this tension.2
This is not interpersonal conflict, although it can become so at times. The sales and manufacturing managers may socialize after work and get together with their families on weekends. They
may be great friends. Inside the organization, their head-butting, and similar conflict among many
other managers and professionals, is rooted in their occupational positions in the organization, their
work environments, and the ensuing cognitive and emotional orientations that they bring to the
decision-making table. Organizational, as opposed to interpersonal, conflict is the inevitable result.
This kind of conflict also is desirable, as it can bring out the best in everyone. Managed properly, it can be a source of enormous strength. It can assist an organization to achieve previously unimagined levels of performance, whether that be in the form of a blockbuster movie, such as The
Little Mermaid, at Disney Corporation, higher passenger loads at Virgin Air resulting from the idea
of in-flight massages, or collaboration between two highly disparate entities, such as the aircraft en1
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, Volume II: The Coming of the New Deal, Boston, Houghton
Mifflin, 1959.
David Thielen, The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management: How to Think and Act Like a Microsoft Manager and Take Your Company to the Top, New York, McGraw-Hill Companies, 1999
This background note was prepared by Professor David W. Young. It is intended to assist with case analyses, and not
to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of administrative situations.
Copyright © 2013 by The Crimson Group, Inc. To order copies or request permission to reproduce this document,
contact Harvard Business Publications ( Under provisions of United States and international copyright laws, no part of this document may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any
means without written permission from The Crimson Group (
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TCG316 • Note on Conflict Management
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gine and home appliance divisions at General Electric (which resulted from regular meetings to
explore, discuss, and decide upon what GE called “cross-business synergies”). Left unmanaged,
or poorly managed, however, conflict can create organizational havoc.
In 1967, Paul Lawrence and Jay Lorsch, both professors at the Harvard Business School,
published a landmark book on conflict and conflict management, entitled Organization and
Environment.3 The book made the then-novel point that organizational conflict arises because
different functional specialists face different technical, economic, and geographic “environments.”
As a result, these individuals have different “cognitive and emotional” orientations, which
Lawrence and Lorsch (L&L) called “differentiation.”
L&L argued that differentiation can vary both in kind and degree, and can differ across and
within industries. A key role of senior management is to assess it, and then design appropriate
conflict management—or “integrating”—mechanisms to deal with it. How an organization
manages conflict—the kind of integration it engages in—depends on how much differentiation it
has. They concluded that the ideal organizational form was contingent on the nature of the
organization’s differentiation. This contingency theory of organization, as it now is called, was
revolutionary in an era when organizational design research sought the single best way to organize.
The Ubiquity of Conflict
L&L’s study was conducted in three industries, each of which displayed slight variations on
the theme. In the container industry, they found that managers in the sales and manufacturing
departments had quite contrasting perspectives. The sales environment was one where a salesperson
wanted to get the product to the customer as quickly as possible, perhaps in relatively small
quantities, whereas the manufacturing environment was characterized by the need for considerable
lead time and lengthy production runs, so as to keep production costs low.
In the food industry, by contrast, the sales staff wanted the products available in the
marketplace before other companies were able to develop a competing product. However,
researchers functioning in a scientific environment, wanted to focus on the development of new
knowledge or on technological improvements— all of which take time.
In the plastics industry, there was differentiation between fundamental and applied research; the
former was concerned with “good science” and the development of new and improved materials.
The latter wanted to be able to use the new or improved materials in the design of new products.
Part of this difference was due to the contrasting “scientific environments” of the two groups, but
part was due to the pressure on the people in applied research to have new products ready for the
market as soon as possible.
More generally, as the following example illustrates, differentiation is an ongoing fact of
organizational life, and no doubt will continue to be so into the foreseeable future:
In the beginning of the 1990s, MCI (the telecommunications company) was in fierce competition for market
share. The company’s research indicated that the top 5 percent of its customers accounted for 40 percent of its
revenues. Further analysis revealed three distinct groups among this 5 percent: frequent travelers, overseas
callers, and work-at-home people.
Based on this research and analysis, MCI’s Sales and Services (S&S) Department launched a program called
Customer First, which was targeted toward those top 5 percent of customers. It provided them with services
such as personal 800 numbers and in-language operators.
The Customer First program led to conflicts between the S&S and Marketing departments. Marketing,
which handled promotions of new products, wanted to introduce these products to as many potential customers
as possible, not just to those who were candidates for the top 5 percent group. However, as part of the new
initiative, Marketing was required to obtain permission from Customer First before introducing a product.
Because the Customer First staff was not concerned with new business, they frequently turned down
Marketing’s proposals for potential new products, even though one of these new products might have attracted a
customer who subsequently would have joined the ranks of the 5-percent group. As a result, while MCI’s
customer retention rate increased, the acquisition rate of new customers fell, causing the company to lose some
potentially valuable business.4
Paul R. Lawrence and Jay W. Lorsch, Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration,
Boston, Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1967.
See Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Enterprise One to One: Tools for Competing in the Interactive Age, New
York, Currency/Doubleday, a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1997.
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TCG316 • Note on Conflict Management
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In part, MCI’s difficulties arose because of the highly differentiated points of view of Sales
and Services, on the one hand, and Marketing on the other. S&S faced an environment of existing
customers who were being presented with a variety of tempting offers from competitors. Marketing,
by contrast, faced an environment of potential new customers, and needed to design attractive offers
to lure them away from competitors.
This challenge is similar to those that L&L discovered in their research. The overall conclusion
is that when two or more managers with contrasting views are required to collaborate in decisionmaking, their differentiation must be matched by appropriate integration. Otherwise, the unresolved
conflict likely will fester, impede timely decision-making, and hinder the organization’s
More generally, while differentiation can vary in kind and degree from one organization to the
next, no organization except perhaps the very smallest can avoid some form if it. As Professor
Martin Charns of Boston University, an expert on the subject of conflict, has stated:
The existence of conflict [i.e., differentiation] in organizations is inevitable. Even when disagreements are not
overtly expressed, latent conflict is an inherent characteristic of complex organizations. Some conflict can never
be resolved, so it is more helpful to think in terms of “managing” conflict than of “resolving” it.
In short, as Charns and others have suggested, conflict can be either beneficial or detrimental to
an organization, depending on how it is managed. The tension that exists between line managers
and the controller’s staff during budget formulation is an example of potentially beneficial conflict
that exists in almost all organizations. Each party brings an important, (but usually conflicting)
perspective to the table, the resolution of which can lead to improved organizational performance.
For a good decision to emerge, however, the conflict must be well managed. In this case, wellmanaged conflict might lead to a tight but attainable budget that directly supports an organization’s
strategy, helps to assure that customers receive high quality products, and motivates line managers
to stretch themselves to attain the agreed-upon goals.
Similarly, L&L’s findings in the container, food, and plastics industries have applicability to
many other industries. At Microsoft, for example, new product development requires collaboration
between the software engineers, who want a lengthy design and testing period, and the marketing
personnel, who want an early launch.5 Moreover, in Microsoft, as well as in companies such as
Chrysler, Intel, Merrill Lynch, and others where there are “co-leaders,”6 one of the fundamental
goals is to take advantage of the creative tension that exists between two people with contrasting
cognitive and emotional orientations.
The Role of Interpersonal Conflict
Clearly, interpersonal (as opposed to organizational) conflict is important or cannot be ignored.
Indeed, interpersonal conflict exists in all organizations and can adversely affect managers’ (and the
organization’s) ability to be effective. But it is based largely on personalities, power relationships,
and a variety of other similar factors.
Interpersonal conflict should not be confused with organizational conflict, however. Otherwise,
senior managers are likely to take quite different actions than they would if they had seen the roots
of the conflict in the organization’s structure and environment. As L. David Brown, another
authority on conflict and conflict management, has said:
Conflict in organizations takes many forms. A disagreement between two individuals may be related to their
personal differences, their job definitions, their group memberships, or all three. One of the most common ways
that managers misunderstand organizational conflict . . . is to attribute difficulties to “personality” factors, when
they are, in fact, rooted in group memberships and organizational structures. Attributing conflict between
production and maintenance workers to their personalities, for example, implies that the conflict can be reduced
by replacing the individuals. But if the conflict is, in fact, related to the differing goals of the two groups, any
individual will be under pressure to fight with members of the other group, regardless of their personal
David Thielen, The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management, op. cit.
David A. Heenan and Warren Bennis, Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships, New York, John Wiley &
Sons, 1999.
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One of L&L’s principal conclusions was that the kinds of differentiation a firm faces dictate, in
large measure, how it must approach the task of integration. Companies with a high degree of
differentiation, for example, require a correspondingly high level of integration. Otherwise, some of
the resulting conflict is likely to remain unresolved, meaning that the organization will be unable to
achieve maximum effectiveness. By contrast, low levels of differentiation require minimal
integration efforts.
These conclusions lead to a conflict management (or integration) process with two related
aspects: the type of conflict management, must corresponds to the level of conflict, and the mode of
conflict management, which must fit with the organization’s authority and influence process.
Moreover, senior management’s choice of the mode of conflict management also influences the
organization’s culture.
Types of Conflict Management
Five different types of conflict-management are shown in Exhibit 1, along with an example of
where each and an appropriate conflict management mechanism. As this exhibit indicates, the
conflict management mechanism can range from information flows (such as the exchange of
interoffice memos or e-mails) to permanent committees. A manager might use the former to
schedule a meeting (where there usually is a relatively low level of one-time conflict), and the latter
to make capital investment decisions (where there tends to be a relatively high level of continuing
Exhibit 1. Types of Conflict Management
Type of Conflict
Conflict Management Mechanism
Low level, one-time
Scheduling a meeting
with multiple perspectives
Information flows (paper, e-mail,
Moderate, one-time,
with two perspectives
Determining who will attend
a conference
Moderate, one-time,
Designing and launching
with multiple perspectives a new product
High, continuing,
with two perspectives
Ad hoc cross-disciplinary teams
Resolving differences between Integrator or integrating department
engineering and manufacturing
High, continuing,
Capital investment decisions;
with multiple perspectives production scheduling for
several product managers
Permanent cross-disciplinary teams
As Exhibit 1 suggests, the conflict management mechanisms must fit with the type of conflict.
For example, using E-mail to make capital investment decisions would be just as inappropriate and
ineffective as would the formation of a permanent committee to schedule a one-time meeting. In
each instance senior management must consider the level of conflict that exists, whether it is onetime or ongoing, what perspectives are involved, who holds those perspectives, and what approach
might be most effective to address the differences and reach an acceptable resolution.
The Role of an Integrator. In making a decision about an appropriate conflict management
mechanism, senior management occasionally will rely on an individual or department outside the
official line-management hierarchy. Sometimes called an “integrator,” this person’s (or
department’s) job is to thoroughly understand the perspectives that create the conflict, and to work
with the involved parties to resolve their differences.
Integrators are needed in many organizations because of the complexity of the decision-making
process. Changing markets and distribution channels, new production techniques, various forms of
process improvements, emerging scientific knowledge, and so on combine to create a wide variety
of perspectives on the best way to proceed. Moreover, most line managers (as well as senior management) cannot fully understand this barrage of information, and yet the company regularly must
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make decisions that incorporate all of it. In addition, while the managers involved in the conflict
frequently are on the leading edges of technological change in their fields, they often do not
understand or appreciate each other’s perspectives.
In an article based on their book, L&L discussed an integrator’s (or an integrating
department’s) role, observing that five of the six plastic companies they studied, including the one
with the best integration record, had what they termed “full-scale integrating departments”
(although they often were not formally labeled as such). Similarly, in the consumer foods industry,
which had both a medium rate of technical change and a medium degree of difference between
basic departments, one of the two companies studied used a full-scale integrating department.7
In L&L’s view, integrators need to have four basic skills: (1) an ability to exert influence based
on competence and knowledge rather than positional authority, (2) an unbiased orientation and
behavior pattern, (3) a feeling that they are being rewarded on the basis of total product responsibility not solely individual performance, and (4) a capacity for resolving interdepartmental conflicts
and disputes. In effect, integrators have skills that span departments, are extremely persuasive, see
themselves as problem solvers, and seek to understand all sides before expressing an opinion.
Modes of Conflict Management
Conflict can be managed in a wide variety of ways. Martin Charns has classified these various
conflict management modes into the six categories shown in Exhibit 2. His argument is that the
choice of a mode, like the selection of a mechanism, depends, in part, on the issue at hand. As
Exhibit 2 indicates, there is no one best mode for all circumstances. Although avoiding and
smoothing tend to be somewhat dysfunctional in most organizations, the others tend to be used
effectively at different times and under different circumstances. Sometimes the situation calls for a
unilateral approach, for example, or for bargaining. And sometimes it calls for a confronting mode.
In general, a successful mode of conflict management must fit with an organization’s authority
and influence process as well as with the type of conflict being addressed. To attempt a unilateral
or forcing mode in an organization with a collegial culture would be difficult and perhaps
counterproductive, as would a confronting mode in an organization where the decision ultimately
would be made by the supervisor of the conflicting parties. In this latter instance, the mode not only
would be a poor fit with the authority and influence process but would be a questionable use of
time for the involved parties. To understand this idea, one need only note that a university has a very
different authority and influence process than the military!
A confronting mode tends to be most appropriate in situations where two professionals or
managers of equal status need to make a decision or reach an agreement. Examples include
researchers from chemistry and physics laboratories seeking an appropriate study design,
engineering and marketing departments agreeing on a product development schedule, primary care
physicians and specialists finding a suitable test or procedure for a patient, manufacturing and sales
departments developing a policy for rush orders, and so on.
Conflict Management and Cross-Disciplinary Teams
A confronting mode also can be appropriate in a setting with cross-disciplinary teams. Indeed,
the work of these teams can be helped or hindered by the way the conflict management process is
designed and managed, as well as by how it fits with other managerial activities. For example, in a
hospital, the potential for successful conflict management with a team is greatly enhanced if the
organization’s culture accords credibility to the team’s non-physician members. Moreover, if the
motivation process provides the appropriate rewards and recognition for good conflict management,
individuals will be more inclined to provide input to the team effort, and their input is likely to be
given greater weight in the discussions. Otherwise, a team may be cross-disciplinary in name only.
Additionally, when cross-disciplinary teams are used, the mode of conflict management must
be appropriate to the kind of conflict that will be generated. If teams are not given sufficient time to
discuss and resolve their differences by the confronting mode, for example, decision-making is
likely to be dominated by one or more individuals who make their influence felt by either a
unilateral or forcing mode.
Paul R. Lawrence and Jay W. Lorsch, “New Management Job: The Integrator,” Harvard Business Review,
November-December, 1967.
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Exhibit 2. Modes of Conflict Management
Substantive issues are not
brought out into the open
Useful if interpersonal friction is so
severe that improved understanding of
the issue will not lead to resolution;
however, may lead to many decisions left
open and worsening organizational
The issues are raised, but are
Similar to avoiding, both of which are
not discussed to the point of
indications that there are differences that
making a decision. Differences are not being discussed
among the participants frequently
are ascribed to personalities
A manager makes a decision
independently depending on
how he/she sees fit. Sometimes
the manager seeks to fully
understand the issue, and
sometimes not.
Usually better than avoiding or
smoothing in that a decision gets made,
and it usually gets made quickly.
However, the decision may have adverse
effects on those organizational units that
were not consulted.
Issues are raised and discussed,
but one party uses power to
attain the approach that he/she
feels is best.
If decision maker has the most relevant
perspective, this mode might result in the
best decision with the least amount of
effort. However, the mode may mean that
some decisions get made without all relevant information in hand or with bias toward the interests of the decision-maker.
Issues are raised, the parties
mutually explore them and seek
the most favorable solution,
using all relevant information.
Has a high potential for reaching a
quality decision, especially if organizational goals are used to frame the
discussion. Can be time consuming and
emotionally draining, however
Similar to confronting, but the
parties each give up something
in an attempt to reach a compromise that is acceptable to all.
May be useful for resource allocation
decisions where a zero-sum game is at
work, but tends to limit information
sharing and openness in a discussion.
Source: Martin Charns8
There are many forms of conflict other than organizational, including grievances, disputes, and
“tense situations,” as well as plain old interpersonal conflict. In addition, conflict management is a
tricky concept because some of the terminology associated with it can be subjected to different
interpretations. “Confronting,” for example, is seen by many as quite pejorative when, in fact, it
simply refers to two or more people airing their views openly and together in a problem-solving
The topic of conflict management also is slippery because it involves people, who cannot be
directed and controlled easily. As a result, theories of conflict management are constantly evolving.
Indeed, some years ago, Harvard Business School Professor Charles Christenson challenged
Martin Charns, op. cit.
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L&L’s thinking, arguing that their normative advice was backwards.9 He suggested that designing
integrating mechanisms to deal with the conflict being generated by the differentiated views of
managers facing contrasting environments was a static approach that minimized the potential for
organizational learning. He argued that senior management should begin by designing the most
powerful integrating mechanisms it could (or that resources allowed), and then should seek to
create as much differentiation as possible within the capabilities of these integrating mechanisms. In
this way, Christenson argued, senior management would get as close as possible to understanding
the organization’s real strengths and weaknesses, and its real environmental opportunities and
Although this idea may sound somewhat far-fetched or academic, it in fact describes exactly
what some senior managers have done. In an interview published in the Harvard Business Review,
Michael Eisner, former Chairman and CEO of the Disney Corporation, was asked “How do you
create the environment for supportive conflict?” His response included the following:
“We’re entertaining people, so we should have an energized culture. . . . that kind of culture doesn’t just
happen—you have to make it happen. That’s one of the reasons we started doing our own internal “gong
show” back in the 1970s. It started as a concept where, once a week, we’d invite everybody to come to a
conference room, and anyone could offer up an idea or two and, right on the spot, people would react. We
loved the idea of big, unruly, disruptive meetings . . . The Little Mermaid came out of a gong show, and so
did Pocahontas. Lots of ideas came out of those meetings.
Another way we get creative juices going and ideas flowing is with “charettes.” These are meetings
with our architects and theme park designers. I love them because they are so brutally honest. Because
everybody has a different opinion about color and style and size and look and landscaping and all the rest,
these meetings take on an event stature. Eventually resolution arrives, but not before every possible idea is
put on the table. . . .
There is no pecking order. All of a sudden it gets really creative. You may have a ten-hour meeting, but
it’s during the last half hour that the best ideas come out. Everybody starts driving each other crazy with
ideas, and then somebody says something and it all comes together.1 0
Clearly, Eisner was not waiting for conflict to happen and then designing an integrating
mechanism to deal with it. Rather, he was investing considerable company resources (such as a tenhour meeting for many high level people) in an integrating mechanism that was designed to
generate conflict and then deal with it. There is no question that Eisner truly understood the
valuable role that conflict can play in moving an organization ahead strategically.
Eisner was not alone. In his book, Wide Angle Vision,11 Wayne Burkan made the point that
companies that fail to generate conflict often miss strategic opportunities. His “ideal team” is one
that helps a company question its own rules and assumptions. He cites examples of companies
such as Smith Corona (battling Brother Industries, its biggest rival in typewriters, but the wrong
competitor for where the market was heading) and Schwinn Bicycle Company (a dominant player
in its industry that failed to see the trend toward mountain bikes) and Hewlett-Packard (that rejected
a “lowly” technician’s idea of a personal computer; that technician, Steve Wozniak, then went on
to co-found Apple Computer).
Similarly, in their book Reengineering the Corporation,12 Michael Hammer and James
Champy suggest that reengineering teams should include employees who are unhappy with the
current processes. Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman discuss a slightly different, but
consistent, slant in Organizing Genius.13 They describe a process at the Palo Alto Research Center
(PARC), in which the senior manager, Robert Taylor, set up a series of weekly meetings run like
academic conferences in which the scientists were expected to challenge the work of their peers. In
addition to improving communication and helping to create Taylor’s desired culture, the meetings
also helped with the generation—and resolution—of considerable conflict.
Charles J. Christenson, The ‘Contingency Theory’ of Organization: A Methodological Analysis,” Boston,
Harvard Business School Working Paper 73-36, 1973.
Suzy Wetlaufer, “Common Sense and Conflict: An Interview with Disney’s Michael Eisner,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 2000.
Wayne Burkan, Wide Angle Vision: Beat Your Competition by Focusing on Fringe Competitors, Lost
Customers, and Rogue Employees, New York, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1996.
Michael Hammer and James Champy, Reengineering the Corporation, New York, Harper Collins, 1993.
Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius, Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1997.
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In these and other similar efforts, the approach mirrors that advocated by Christenson: to create
a powerful integrating mechanism (usually a team, but sometimes, as in the case of PARC, a regular
meeting) and then to generate as much differentiation as possible—that is, as many iconoclastic
points of view as the process can handle. Only in this way will senior management and others begin
to gain knowledge about the organization’s true strengths and weaknesses, and the environment’s
true opportunities and threats.
Link to Culture
There are several conflict management activities that senior management can use, each of which
will affect its culture. For example, senior management’s response to a situation of ongoing conflict
can be to (a) become involved in resolving it, (b) appoint an ad hoc or permanent committee to deal
with it, or (c) assign an integrator. All three approaches can be effective, but each is likely to lead to
a different culture in terms of the basic assumptions about how decisions are made. Indeed, the
approaches taken to deal with the several kinds of organizational conflict (shown in Exhibit 1), and
the modes of conflict management that are used (shown in Exhibit 2) constitute highly visible intraorganizational signals of the kind of culture senior management desires.
From a somewhat broader perspective, in The Executive Way,14 Calvin Morrill used the results
of interviews with over 200 executives and their support personnel to describe how high-level
corporate executives manage conflict. He found that the corporate culture was an important
influence, which suggests that the organization’s culture is directly linked to the conflict management process.
Link to Authority and Influence
Similarly, a committee’s or task force’s membership sends important signals about authority
and influence. If senior management combines, say, an equal number of middle managers and
assembly line workers on a reengineering task force, it sends a signal to the organization about both
the importance of line workers’ opinions and the value it attaches to middle managers’ time.
Link to Customer Satisfaction
Conflict management also is linked to the “customer management” process. In the Toyota
Production System (TPS), for example, everyone in the plant is expected to be on the alert for
potential operational changes that would improve either efficiency or quality. Clearly, ideas will be
challenged and study designs (to test the new ideas) will be critiqued, all of which constitute
conflict. Without appropriate conflict management processes—quite likely ad hoc task forces
engaging in a confronting mode—it is unlikely that the TPS would be the success that it is.
Although conflict can be beneficial to Toyota, in the sense that it creates multiple perspectives
on the best way to design the customer management process, it also must be managed appropriately
or it will impede the the plant’s smooth functioning. In effect, Toyota’s senior management must
develop appropriate integrating devices to manage these highly differentiated perspectives on
customer management.
Link to Management Control
Finally, both the conflict management and customer management processes are linked to the
management control process. In particular, when a report from the management control process
indicates that either financial or programmatic results are not as planned, this is a signal that action
of some sort is needed. Determining the appropriate action to bring the customer management
process back in line no doubt will engender some conflict about the most appropriate steps. A key
task for senior management is to determine the places where conflict may arise and then to design
appropriate mechanisms to manage it.
Calvin Morrill, The Executive Way: Conflict Management in Corporations, Chicago, The University of
Chicago Press, 1995.
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1. What are our primary source of organizational conflict? Specifically, which managers have
what kinds of perspectives and how highly differentiated are they?
2. What processes do we use to manage the above conflict? Where do we use task forces?
Permanent committees? Integrators? Other techniques?
3. Do our conflict management processes adequately address the many kinds of conflict that
arise in the customer management process? Do they fit with our authority and influence and
cultural maintenance processes? If not, how might we modify them to improve the fit?
4. How effective are our conflict management activities? What kind of conflict goes unresolved
for too long? Why?
5. Does our motivation process provide appropriate rewards for successful conflict management? If not, what kinds of changes are needed?
6. What kinds of conflict do we need to generate so as to gain greater insight into our strengths
and weakness and environmental opportunities and threats? How will we manage this new
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Mar. 4, 2015
Conflict Management in Teams
Successful teams have three things in common: (1) they meet their performance goals, (2) their members
feel satisfied that they are learning/benefiting from being a part of the team, and (3) the process the team uses
to collaborate sets it up for future success.1 Recent research, however, suggests that in as little as five weeks of
working together, only about 25% of teams meet these criteria.2 The rest of the teams typically experience lessthan-ideal processes and a decline in performance and/or satisfaction.
So what goes wrong? Most team members report that conflict among team members gets in the way of
effective teamwork, and this conclusion is largely supported by academic research. The effect of conflict on
teams is not always straightforward, however. Under the right conditions, for example, conflict can stimulate
divergent thinking and lead to improved problem solving. On the other hand, it also tends to increase
defensiveness, distract members from effective problem solving, and generate interpersonal animosity. So what
determines whether a team can harness the benefits and limit the liabilities of conflict?
More than a decade of research provides a clear answer: how team conflict is managed. Because conflict
happens in all teams (even the most effective ones), the presence of conflict has little bearing on whether one
team is more successful than another. The factor most important to team success is how teams handle conflict
when it does arise—and there are clear and reliable patterns associated with (in)effective conflict management.
These patterns center on a critical tradeoff that teams implicitly or explicitly make when deciding how to deal
with their conflict: the tradeoff between getting work done and making individual members happy.
The most effective teams create strategies to do both, but the majority of teams sacrifice one or the other.
For example, conflict gets in the way of effective work if the team is unable or unwilling to address the root
cause of the conflict. Low-performing teams typically struggle with this (usually because people did not speak
their minds) or are unwilling to address the problem (e.g., when there were politics around taking sides or
people are just too fed up to even try). This ultimately hurts performance because the inhibiting factors of the
conflict are never managed—that is, removed from the team’s process. In terms of individual satisfaction with
the team, the distinguishing factor is how proactive versus reactive the team’s approach is to conflict
management. Teams that are proactive in identifying conflicts and addressing them before they escalate have
more satisfied members. Teams that operate in reactive mode, wherein conflicts take them by surprise or keep
the team in constant firefighting mode have less satisfied members. These tradeoffs around performance and
satisfaction are summarized in Figure 1 below.
J. Richard Hackman and Charles G. Morris, “Group Tasks, Group Interaction Process, and Group Performance Effectiveness: A Review and
Proposed Integration,” in Leonard Berkowitz, ed., Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 8 (New York: Academic Press, 1975).
This article is a summary of the research presented in: Kristin Behfar, Randall Peterson, Elizabeth Mannix, and William Trochim, “The Critical Role
of Conflict Resolution in Teams: A Close Look at the Links Between Conflict Type, Conflict Management Strategies, and Team Outcomes,” Journal of
Applied Psychology 93, no. 1 (2008).
This technical note was prepared by Kristin Behfar, Associate Professor of Business Administration, and Rebecca Goldberg (MBA ’03), management
consultant. It was written as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. Copyright
 2015 by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA. All rights reserved. To order copies, send an e-mail to No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by
any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of the Darden School Foundation.
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Figure 1. Patterns in teams’ outcomes according to the processes they create to manage conflict.
Proactive conflictresolution
strategies planned
to preempt
negative effects of
strategies applied
in reaction to
existing problems
High/Improving Performance
Team is able and willing to identify and correct
Low/Declining Performance
Team is unable or unwilling to identify and correct
Quadrant 1: The Ideal Team
These teams create processes to foresee or anticipate
conflict, allowing the team to either quickly resolve
or prevent the conflict from escalating when it does
Example description:
“We don’t always agree, and if we don’t, everyone understands
why—and what their part might be in the problem. If someone
is upset, we remind ourselves to focus on what (not who) might
be causing the problem. We get the right person in the right
role, and if someone is having trouble meeting a deadline, they
let us know as soon as possible. We feel pretty good about
helping one another out where needed.”
Quadrant 2: Feeling Good, Doing Bad
These teams create processes that are proactive
about protecting relationships to the detriment of
tackling the source of the problem. As a result,
members feel valued and interactions tend to be
pleasant, but the team is not willing to tackle
difficult conflict in discussions and usually miss
opportunities to leverage members’ unique
expertise or viewpoints.
Example description:
“Open disagreement is rare. We tend to incorporate
everyone’s viewpoint into our decisions. If we can’t reach
consensus, we just postpone the decision. This is not always
the best, but everyone likes one another.”
Quadrant 3: Recovering via Structure
These teams create processes that reflect learning
from their conflicts. Their strategies tend to rely on
rules and structured agreements to prevent a similar
problem from happening again. This makes team
members more reliable (it acts as a substitute for
trust), but decreases satisfaction by constraining
Example description:
“Working in my team takes some effort. We have had some
big differences. Now, when we have a problem, we force
ourselves to stop and have these (sometimes time-consuming
and uncomfortable) conversations about what each person can
do so this won’t happen again. We try to focus on the fact that
we all want to do good work.”
Quadrant 4: Minimize Misery/Avoidant
These teams describe chaotic/trial-and-error
processes that have no clear identification of the
root cause of the conflict. Their overall orientation
is typically to use strategies that move past (rather
than address) the conflict.
Example description:
“When we have conflict, we get frustrated fast because big
problems just never go away—they keep happening. Our
conversations start tense and often escalate; people get upset
and take sides. Many times we just give up and vote. The
people who lose the vote just have to deal with it. We try to
get most of our work done outside of our meetings and keep
meetings short.”
Data source: Excerpted from Behfar et al.
It is probably safe to say that very few teams want to be in Quadrants 2 through 4. Teams land there because
they do not successfully manage the tension between leveraging individuals’ strengths and addressing their
complaints. Put another way, in conflict situations, there are competing interests: what is good for the team is
not always what each individual wants or is willing to do. In general, higher-performing teams create conflictresolution strategies that make it clear how individuals need to contribute to the team and how that contribution
aligns with their interests, whereas lower-performing teams focus more on appeasing individuals and addressing
We will next discuss unique differences in how teams in the four quadrants manage conflict. It is important
to note that people tend to use the same words (e.g., discussion, compromise, consensus) to describe conflictresolution strategies, but research has demonstrated that those words represent strikingly different processes,
as summarized in Figure 2.
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Figure 2. Summary of conflict-resolution strategies used by teams in each quadrant
and examples of how the same words can represent different resolution processes.
High/Improving Performance
Conflict-resolution strategies focus on the group
goal over specific individual complaints/quirks
Proactive conflictresolution
strategies planned
to preempt
negative effects of
Quadrant 1: The Ideal Team
Resolution Focus: Equity
Summary of strategies:
Quadrant 2: Feeling Good, Doing Bad
Resolution Focus: Equality
Summary of strategies:
 Work assignments based on skill and relevance
to team performance
 Work assignments based on individual interest
and/or on who volunteers
 Forecasting scheduling and workload problems
 In place of analysis, include all ideas
 Securing solid understanding behind
 Strong focus on individuals goals, feelings, and
needs versus how they can best contribute to team
The process behind the words:
Discussion or Communicating: The topic has been raised
and talked about (usually amicably) in a team meeting
Compromise: The team has spent time trying to figure
out how to make each person happy
Consensus: All ideas have been incorporated (rather
than debated to select the best one) and/or no one
has voiced disagreement
 Focusing on content over delivery style
The process behind the words:
Discussion or Communicating: Evidence-driven
exchange of conflicting views; members focus on
evidence and analysis to make decisions
Compromise: Each person understands how
his/her interests align with the team goal—or
what he/she is giving up and what he/she is
getting back in return
Consensus: All members are convinced they have
compromised for good reasons
strategies applied
in reaction to
existing problems
Low/Declining Performance
Conflict-resolution strategies focus on specific
individuals’ complaints over the group goal
Quadrant 3: Recovering via Structure
Resolution Focus: Enforced Equity
Summary of strategies:
Quadrant 4: Minimize Misery/Avoidant
Resolution Focus: Ad Hoc
Summary of strategies:
 Work assignments by assigned team role or
convenience (due to others’ uncompleted
 Work assignments to divide and conquer; avoid
meetings and one another
 Written or clearly articulated rules and
consequences for not upholding expectations
 Majority rule under time pressure
 Putting disruptive members into a specific role
The process behind the words:
Discussion or Communicating: Members explicitly
discuss conflicts and agree not to let differences
get in the way of success
Compromise: Members agree to follow team rules
to prevent further disruption or to follow the
majority opinion if under time constraints
Consensus: Members share responsibility for
correcting problems and agree to uphold team
 Frustrated members avoid debate and choose the
path of least resistance or the easiest solution
 Put conflicting viewpoints to a majority vote
 Trial and error to correct process
The process behind the words:
Discussion or Communicating: Members openly air
complaints and their (usually angry) expression is
returned with an equally frustrated, in-kind reaction
Compromise: Members agree to try a different method,
assign a new person to a role, or one person has
volunteered to do more work to avoid working with
another member
Consensus: Members have “given in” to a dominant
member, they have agreed to disagree, and/or there
has been a majority vote
Data source: Excerpted from Behfar et al.
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Quadrant 1: The Ideal Team
The teams in this quadrant orient themselves to resolve conflict using the principle of equity—each member
is asked to contribute his or her fair share only in ways that serve the team. This means that not everyone
equally gets what he or she wants, but members usually understand why team decisions are fair and equitable.
The strategies unique to these teams include:

Having explicit discussions about what members want to do versus what the team needs each person to do. Quadrant 1
teams are the only teams that actually divide work based on expertise rather than personal interests,
convenience, or deadline emergencies. If one team member, for example, wants more client contact
but other team members have better qualifications, these teams talk about how to balance individual
needs for advancement with the team’s need to best serve the client. These proactive discussions also
allow them to avoid the critical mistake of debating the legitimacy of personal excuses (e.g., telling a
member he or she is wrong to have personal priorities). By foreseeing where individual and team
interests might conflict and allocating work accordingly, the likelihood of team members failing to meet
expectations, exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior, and offering up excuses that irritate others

Proactively forecasting preventable problems. Most teams have busy people on them, which means (even with
the best forecasting) they occasionally will miss a deadline or need help. Ideal teams are disciplined
about foreseeing periods of work overload for each member and identifying workflow bottlenecks in
advance. Being proactive about these issues prevents significant disruptions (e.g., from missed
deadlines or delays), makes it easier for members to manage their time, and allows the team to agree
on how to communicate about pending problems and change staffing arrangements or secure more
resources if needed.

Taking time to discuss individuals’ compromises. The two practices above are often difficult because they
require direct confrontation: telling a member he or she is not the best person for the job or selecting
one person’s idea over another’s. The time spent to proactively discuss individual disappointments and
to secure solid understanding behind compromises, pays off in the longer term because it is makes
clear what each person is getting versus giving the team, that each person is valued (even if others
consider him/her to be wrong), and why decisions benefit everyone in some way. This often includes
the practice of debriefing previous decisions after getting feedback to confirm or disconfirm team

During conflict, focusing on content over delivery. When these teams have unanticipated conflicts, they “fight”
by focusing on the content of the complaint—not the delivery. They do not react to demands and
sarcastic or condescending tones, and instead focus on uncovering the underlying causes of the
conflict.3 One way they do this is to diffuse offensive behavior by naming it (e.g., “You are being way
too aggressive right now, but I like what you are saying.”) They also avoid the mistake of trying to
change things about other members (e.g., a domineering member’s personality) and instead find a way
to get a disruptive member into a role that benefits the team. They might, for example, put an
unbearably critical member in charge of reviewing all outgoing work in order to find errors.
These teams are examples of textbook “ideal” collaboration, but that does not mean they do not experience
difficult conflict. In fact, great teams typically have all of the same types and severity of conflict that other teams
have. Where they are better able to contain any negative effects is by using equity as an underlying principle
when managing conflict. Equitable resolution helps to maintain or restore a sense of fairness, ensure optimal
3 This is a similar practice that is described in negotiation as focusing on interests over positions (e.g., as described in Roger Fisher, William Ury, and
Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (New York: Penguin Group, 1981).
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resource allocation, and promote productivity and positive relationships between team members. The benefits
of this orientation build over time. As each conflict is encountered and navigated successfully, team members
bring these positive memories, behaviors, and expectations with them to the next conflict. Team members can
be more willing to contribute and more willing to engage in the next conflict-resolution opportunity.
Not using these techniques, in contrast, can result in behavior that detracts from team performance and/or
satisfaction, as seen in the other quadrants.
Quadrant 2: Feeling Good, Doing Bad
Teams in Quadrant 2 orient themselves to resolve conflict using the principle of equality—or giving equal
weight to every individual and his/her interest. This focus on equality among individuals creates a team norm
that values consensus and harmony at the cost of decision quality. For example, these teams consider
themselves proactive because their discussions identify what it will take to keep each person positive and
engaged in the team. This is indeed a good practice, but only when aligned with what the team is trying to
achieve. When making decisions, these teams tend to find ways to equally include everyone’s ideas rather than
having evidence-driven, analytical discussions. These teams are not as common in organizations as (or are
shorter-lived than) teams in the other quadrants because they do not perform. When they do occur, they often
consist of members who have large status differences (and the lower-status members are afraid or unwilling to
challenge higher-status members), or when there are other political reasons that silence members or make them
unwilling to question the wisdom of team decisions.
Quadrant 3: Recovering via Structure
Teams in Quadrant 3 orient themselves to resolve conflict with enforced equity. Unlike the teams in Quadrant
1, which also use the principle of equity, Quadrant 3 teams are more reactive in dealing with conflicts that have
escalated and disrupted team progress. These teams quickly learn from and address their conflicts, which is why
they are able to prevent problems from reoccurring. Having to retroactively fix team problems tends to decrease
satisfaction because it places team members in the position of having to do more for the team than expected—
or having to play a role they would not otherwise have to if other members had upheld their responsibilities.
These teams’ strategies typically revolve around how to restore and enforce equity. For example, they often
create rules, explicit agreements, and clear expectations about how to force members into playing an appropriate
part. They consider these strategies ways to make members more reliable, and use them as substitutes for
trusting one another to live up to their obligations. Examples of these agreements are picking up unfinished
work, agreeing to vote when the team is out of time, or creating new roles that are better suited to each member
and/or to isolate disruptive members. These strategies are similar to the ones employed in Quadrant 1, but they
are put into place after there is a problem. This decreases satisfaction because the balance of individual versus
team interests tips toward team interests. For example, members on the losing side of the vote tend to feel
marginalized and do not fully understand why their ideas are compromised in favor of the winning course of
action. These teams tend to work around conflicts and prioritize group output first, which has the effect of
improving performance at the expense of individual needs.
Quadrant 4: Minimize Misery/Avoidant
Teams in this quadrant tend to have an unorganized or ad hoc approach to managing their conflict. They
not only fail to balance individual versus team interests, they actually fail to address either one. Their strategies
focus more on immediate complaints rather than underlying interests. For example, team members make the
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to Oct 2023.
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Page 6
mistake of arguing about one another’s intentions rather than figuring out how to leverage strengths, they
openly tell disruptive members to change a trait or habit rather than figuring out how to minimize a disruptive
member’s effect on the team, and often get caught in a distracting negative spiral of interpersonal conflict rather
than discussing how to accomplish the team goal. A history of unfocused and unsuccessful conflict attempts
and an imbalance of individual and team interests generally limits the willingness and ability of members to
engage in good-faith conflict resolution. In fact, when asked the question: What is going wrong in your team?,
members often cannot pinpoint exactly what is wrong. Over time, a buildup of strong emotions and
unsuccessful attempts at resolving conflict can cloud members’ ability to recognize the cause of the problem,
and therefore what they are reacting to may actually have nothing to do with what got the team off track initially.
When members do try to engage with one another, they often opt for Band-Aid strategies that do not
address how the team is structured. For example, if they think their discussion lacks consideration of alternative
viewpoints, they might try a formal brainstorming process. This solution can generate new alternatives, but
does not contribute to decision quality because the team has a weak foundation for discussing and choosing a
solution. As old conflict patterns escalate discussion, instead of employing evidence-driven analysis, these teams
tend to organize in ways that minimize interaction (e.g., creating subgroups or becoming a de facto virtual
team), they choose the easiest solution (e.g., giving in to the dominant voice), or to just rely on voting and
majority rule. There is a tit-for-tat mentality rather than a process for sharing responsibilities, knowledge, and
work; this leaves members guessing and reacting rather than collaborating and problem solving. These teams
usually experience high turnover and require significant outside intervention to recover.
Sustaining a high-performing, highly satisfied team takes a great deal of maintenance and awareness. Over
the lifespan of a team, it is highly likely that it will cycle through several or all the quadrants. Understanding the
effect that different orientations toward conflict-management strategies have on a team’s viability is important
because it helps a team recognize where there are imbalances that create negative processes and interactions—
and where to focus resources to prevent or reverse the negative effects.
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FA L L 2 0 0 6
V O L . 4 8 N O. 1
Ralph Hasson
How to Resolve Board
Disputes More Effectively
Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has
been intentionally removed. The substantive content
of the article appears as originally published.
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How to Resolve Board
Disputes More Effectively
disposal. In addition,
n 1999, Coca-Cola Co.’s CEO, Douglas Ivester, handpicked successor to
popular Roberto Goizueta, was surprised in a Chicago airport by two
members of the flagging company’s board of directors. According to the directors, Ivester’s hardhanded tactics with local bottlers and European
regulators had alienated business partners and shareholders and left him with
a reputation for not listening to the board. Mistakenly believing that the two
directors spoke for the entire board, Ivester abruptly resigned. Shares of Coke
fell 12% in two days as the board and investors struggled to make sense of
what had happened. The incident would affect the company for years, and
Coca-Cola would have three CEOs from 1997 to 2004.1 Certainly conflict is
inevitable in any organization, but, with the right approach in place, boards
can greatly increase the opportunity to resolve disagreements before they get
a chance to get out of control.
Given the high stakes involved, it is important that boards use a comprehensive approach to specify roles, policies and procedures for resolving the
routine disagreements that arise in the course of providing oversight. Boards
using a systemic approach may find that not only will they resolve disputes
more effectively, but they will also enhance their collaborative problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.2 Most of the time, boards do a pretty
good job of talking things out. However, they can be far more effective if they
establish a broad range of internal and external resources to assist them in
uncovering and resolving problems. Additionally, organizations might want
to consider adopting a new role: the board ombudsman. If the role were implemented, the board ombudsman could become a powerful resource for
senior management and for the board as well, empowered with the capability
to resolve disputes quickly, quietly and efficiently.
they should consider
A Range of Skills Is Needed
Companies have a
number of internal
and external
resources at their
creating the new role
of board ombudsman
to mediate
Ralph Hasson
Of course, any effective conflict-management plan must begin with the board
itself. (See “A Comprehensive Board Approach,” p. 78.) Ira Millstein has advised that when boards are selecting new directors they should consider the
capacity of potential board members to respond constructively to trouble and
to help the company prevent it.3 Best practices in conflict management and
corporate governance alike call for directors and boards to take the lead in
Ralph Hasson is a fellow of the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution and
a fellow of the IC2 Institute of the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at
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2023 to Oct 2023.
Illustration: David Plunkert/
For the exclusive use of C. OPARA, 2023.
addressing their own problems and disagreements related to oversight responsibilities, using the most constructive approaches
possible. To solve the thorny problems that come their way, directors need a range of skills and a clear understanding of when to use
each: individual initiative, negotiation skills, informal mediation
skills, investigative skills and decision-making ability. Specifically,
the value of collaborative problem-solving skills such as negotiation and mediation should not be underestimated. Consider the
struggles of the Walt Disney Co.’s board in March 2004. In the
midst of a shareholder revolt, CEO Michael Eisner received a noconfidence vote of 43%. The board separated the CEO and
chairman roles to quell the uprising. Although the board discussed
other candidates, it named former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as
nonexecutive chairman because of his experience and credibility as
a mediator and negotiator. Mitchell reportedly considered shuttle
diplomacy among investors, directors and Eisner as his chief responsibility.4
In addition to the range of problem-solving skills that directors
need personally, boards need an established set of internal and
external resources to assist them in uncovering and solving problems. In general, directors and boards needing assistance should
first turn to the company’s internal specialists. For example, they
A Comprehensive Board Approach
By Directors:
• Each Director
• Chair, Governance
• Lead Director/Chair
• Committee Chairs
• Committees
By In-House Staff:
• Organizational Ombudsman
• Governance Officer
• Chief Ethics Officer
• General Counsel
• Sr. VP Human Resources
• Security
The Board Ombudsman
• Full Board
• Individual action
• Negotiation
• Informal mediation
• Investigation
• Decision making
might seek assistance from the general counsel, chief ethics officers or organizational ombudsmen. For explosive, sensitive or
contentious problems, directors and the board should also have
access to a number of external resources, including the board
ombudsman, for highly confidential, informal problem-solving
assistance. This assistance may take the form of independent investigation for matters requiring a formal inquiry, and external
mediation or arbitration for full-blown disputes involving the
board. Parties likely to come into conflict with individual directors
or the board should also be encouraged to use the resources and
roles available through the system. Finally, all parties retain access
to the courts and to local, state and federal agencies. However,
because the system helps the board to capture and resolve problems early, fewer problems end up in these forums.
The goal is to change the flow of events when a problem or
dispute arises, shifting the focus away from full-blown battles
and after-the-fact damage control toward prevention and early
intervention. Encouraging collaborative methods increases the
opportunity to solve problems quickly among those directly
involved. By making independent and confidential resources
for informal assistance available to every employee and every
director, the board enhances its capacity for ethics oversight.
Formal procedures that can be considerably more
expensive, time-consuming or divisive, such as
investigations or litigation, are needed less often,
and are more efficient when they are used. The
most expensive and destructive approaches of all,
political maneuverings and sabotage, are reduced
to an absolute minimum.
By Professional Providers:
• Board Ombudsman
• Outsourced
• Investigative Counsel
• Mediation
• Arbitration
• Courts
• Agencies
Adapted from K.A. Slaikeu and R.H. Hasson, “Controlling the Costs of
Conflict: How to Design a System for Your Organization” (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1998).
A comprehensive approach may not be enough
without the inclusion of the board ombudsman.
When it comes to solving problems and resolving
disagreements, directors and boards have at least two
related needs not commonly met through existing
resources. One need is for a highly competent, independent and confidential resource that can help
directors and boards to solve problems through effective, informal methods, such as assisted negotiation
or shuttle diplomacy. Second, the board needs assistance from resources that reflect the unique nature of
its relationship to the company and its shareholders.
As trustees of the company, members of the board
may have bosses (shareholders) and subordinates
(the CEO and the senior management team) but
they have no peers.5 Therefore, particularly in highly
sensitive or potentially explosive matters, it may be
extremely difficult, and in some cases even inappropriate, for a director or full board to seek advice or
This document is authorized for use only by CHIOMA OPARA in Negotiations and Conflict Management, Summer 2023 taught by Rex Hammond, Virginia University – Lynchburg from Apr
2023 to Oct 2023.
For the exclusive use of C. OPARA, 2023.
assistance from an internal resource regarding problems with a
fellow director or a senior manager. The board ombudsman
could step into this breach and
become a confidential resource for
informal assistance and an independent and neutral problem
solver and go-between.
The model for a board ombudsman role as described here is
the organizational ombudsman, as
defined in the standards and codes
of the International Ombudsman
Association.6 However, the board
ombudsman and the organizational ombudsman remain separate
and distinct. The power of the
board ombudsman role stems
from the individual’s credibility as
an independent and neutral resource as well as an objective peer.
While the board ombudsman role
does not currently exist, others have
informally taken on this role in the
past. In tough situations,
boards and CEOs have often benefited from the assistance of outside
advisers. When eight former Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. executives
launched an effort to unseat CEO Philip Purcell in 2005, the board
turned to lawyer Martin Lipton for assistance.7 In 2001, the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental advocacy group
headquartered in San Francisco, announced plans to target wood
and paper products manufacturer Boise Cascade Corp., now Boise,
over the use of wood from old-growth forests. RAN went after
Boise’s customers, persuading a number of them, such as Kinko’s,
L.L. Bean and Patagonia, to reduce or eliminate their contracts
with Boise. In early 2003, Lowe’s Companies Inc. CEO Robert Tillman, a recent adopter of RAN’s wood-purchasing policies, stepped
in to provide shuttle diplomacy, encouraging Boise’s CEO, George
Harad, to engage in direct talks with RAN. In September 2003, the
parties announced an agreement stating that Boise would agree to
give incentives to suppliers who bought wood from forests that
were certified as well managed.8
Despite the value of the assistance in each of these examples,
neither Tillman nor Lipton could offer truly neutral assistance to
either party, nor could they provide independent and confidential assistance to all the disputing factions. Lipton was fulfilling
multiple roles on behalf of Morgan Stanley, and Tillman’s
The board
ombudsman fills
a need by acting
as a confidential
resource for
assistance and
as a source for
shuttle diplomacy
on an as-needed
company, Lowe’s, had already reached an agreement with RAN.
The board ombudsman fills a need by acting as a confidential
resource for informal, independent assistance and as a source for
shuttle diplomacy. This resource must be made available and attractive to any director or committee, to the full board and to the
CEO or other parties with whom the board is likely to come into
conflict. The board ombudsman would be available on an asneeded basis. The parties would decide if and when to seek
assistance from the board ombudsman, rather than being forced
to rely on outside intervention.
Additionally, the board ombudsman could have broader, ongoing responsibilities to the board as a whole — to identify
troubling patterns or trends developing within the board, or
between the board and management, and to advise the full
board of the need for changes in its polices and procedures.
Finally, the board ombudsman could be an even more valuable
resource if made available to other parties likely to come into
conflict with directors, such as large, institutional shareholders,
key customers and business partners. A major benefit could be a
significant increase in the board’s ability to expose and address a
wide variety of problems early. The board ombudsman would
become part of the comprehensive system for providing many
opportunities to catch problems at different stages and through
a variety of channels.
Aligning Resources
Many of these best practices for resolving board conflicts are not
yet in common use, and interested boards must take a number of
steps to ensure that all the necessary resources are in place. First,
the board working with the CEO should commission a team to
develop its plan. One or more members of the governance committee should be included, as developing and implementing the
sort of system described here certainly fits within that committee’s
responsibilities. The team should also include a member of the
audit committee, since one key benefit of such a system is an increased ability to uncover and address allegations of financial
wrongdoing. The lead director, if the board has one, is likely to
play an important role in the system, and should be included as
well. Because internal specialists are critical to the system, the
committee should include the organizational ombudsman and
the leadership of compliance functions, as well as a senior line officer or two. The corporate governance officer, if the organization
has one, should be included, since he or she may play a principal
role in implementing, administering and monitoring the system.
With a team in place, the board can set goals for the system. The
team can then compare existing procedures against the board’s
goals, and consider what changes or additions to existing roles,
policies and procedures might be needed to encourage more productive, low-cost resolutions. Based on its review and comparison,
the team can develop a plan for implementing the new system.
This document is authorized for use only by CHIOMA OPARA in Negotiations and Conflict Management, Summer 2023 taught by Rex Hammond, Virginia University – Lynchburg from Apr
2023 to Oct 2023.
For the exclusive use of C. OPARA, 2023.
Looking Outside
Given the broad range of resources
included in this process, boards will
need help from other organizations
to implement these new practices.
Private and nonprofit organizations
that support executives, directors
and boards, or that interact with
them on a routine basis, can play a
key role in the development of the
new systems. One or more of the
professional associations concerned
with governance, perhaps in tandem with one or more leading
academic institutions, could develop a board ombudsman program
as a pooled or shared resource,
available on a contract basis to any
board. In addition to their own internal resources, the organizations
developing the program could draw
on the expertise of private service
providers, insurers and experts in
conflict management, corporate
governance and related disciplines.
Including institutional shareholder
groups in the design of such services could make them even more
attractive and effective. The same
sort of organization could also provide skills training geared to the needs of individual directors,
committee chairs, lead directors/board chairs and the full board and
senior management, to help directors fulfill their new responsibilities for problem solving and conflict management. There is also a
need for incentives to encourage development of these new approaches. One such incentive could come from the carriers who
insure boards and directors. Boards, and the network of organizations that support them, should be working with insurers to develop
criteria for board conflict-management systems and to integrate
such criteria into the consideration of governance practices in the
underwriting process. The resulting benefits for insurers could include reduced losses and enhanced compliance with legal and
regulatory standards; for directors and boards, reduced premiums
and/or more favorable terms of coverage; and for all, including
shareholders, less costly, more productive problem solving and conflict management as integral components of good governance.
Boards and
should work
with insurers to
develop criteria
for conflictmanagement
and to integrate
consideration of
such practices into
the underwriting
once the board has assembled its team and external resources
and implemented the system, it can begin cutting the costs of
conflict — in dollars, time and risk to reputation. With individual
directors fulfilling their roles and using the internal and external
resources available to take individual and collaborative action, the
board’s ability to provide oversight improves dramatically.
The goal is for every organization to be able to avoid costly
errors and disagreements, as Medtronic’s CEO William George
was able to do. Several years ago, George won an overwhelming
11–1 approval for a major acquisition. The dissenter engaged
with George constructively and persuasively about potential dangers of the deal. George listened and reconvened the board, and
this time they voted not to go through with the acquisition.9 Direct talk, however, won’t always be enough to solve the problems
facing boards quickly and constructively. Not all boards will have
a CEO willing to listen or a board member skilled enough to win
over 11 fellow directors. The board also needs a comprehensive
array of supporting resources, with clear policies and procedures
for each that reflect best practices in conflict management. Implementing these new systems can not only significantly improve
corporate governance, but it has the potential to greatly increase
insight into operating effectiveness as well.
1. B. Morris with P. Sellers et. al., “The Real Story: How Did Coca-Cola’s
Management Go From First-Rate to Farcical in Six Short Years? Tommy
the Barber Knows,” Fortune, May 31, 2004, 84-98. See also C.H.
Deutsch, “Coca-Cola Reaches Into Past for New Chief,” The New York
Times, May 5, 2004, sec. C, p. 1.
2. K.A. Slaikeu and R.H. Hasson, “Controlling the Costs of Conflict: How
to Design a System for Your Organization” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
3. I.M. Millstein, “‘Trouble’— A Factor in Selecting Directors,” Directors
Monthly (June 2000): 1-4.
4. L.M. Holson and C. Hulse, “For a Diplomat, Task Is Quelling Disney’s
Unrest,” The New York Times, March 5, 2004.
5. C. Elson, interview with author, Sept. 28, 2004.
6. The Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice of the International
Ombudsman Association are available at
7. T. Landon Jr., “Counselor for All Reasons,” The New York Times, July
28, 2005, sec. C, p. 1.
8. M. Gunther, “The Mosquito in the Tent: A Pesky Environmental Group
Called the Rainforest Action Network Is Getting Under the Skin of Corporate America,” Fortune, May 31, 2004, 158-165; Y. Trofimov and H.
Cooper, “Globalization Protestors Plan to Target Companies,” The Wall
Street Journal Online, July 23, 2001; G. Winter, “Timber Company Reduces Cutting of Old-Growth Trees,” The New York Times, March 27,
2002; J. Carlton, “Boise Cascade Turns Green,” The Wall Street Journal
Online, Sept. 3, 2003.
9. C. Hymowitz, “Changing the Rules,” The Wall Street Journal Online,
Feb. 23, 2003; P. Pryzant and V. Caracio, “Overcoming Warren Buffett’s
‘Boardroom Atmosphere,’” Directors Monthly (December 2003): 9.
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August 1, 2009
Communicating, Negotiating, and
Resolving Conflicts Across Cultures
From Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally,
Second Edition, by David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson
© 2009 by David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson. All rights reserved.
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
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