Managing Conflict for Effective Leadership and Organizations

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Leaders and employees deal with conflict as they collaborate in the everyday life of organizations and as they confront crises. Depending how they manage conflict, they can frustrate employees and provoke customer complaints but also stimulate their relationships and decision-making. The possibilities of constructive conflict are significant and documented, but the challenges to making conflict constructive are significant too. The practice of defining conflict as a win-lose battle has obscured ways of managing conflict constructively. Fortunately, researchers have developed concepts and findings that can help managers and employees manage conflict. A first step is developing a useful, unconfounded definition of conflict. Deutsch proposed that conflict occurs when there are incompatible activities. Team members are in conflict as they argue for different options for a decision.

Deutsch also theorized that how people believe their goals are related very much affects their interaction, specifically their conflict management. They can conclude that their goals are cooperative (positively related), competitive (negatively related), or independent. People with cooperative goals believe that as one of them moves toward attaining goals, that helps others achieve their goals. In competition, people conclude that their goals are negatively related and only one can succeed in the interaction. In independence, one person ‘s success neither benefits nor harms the others’ success. Researchers have found that the nature of the cooperative or competitive relationship between protagonists has a profound impact on their mutual motivation to discuss conflicts constructively. Cooperative and competitive methods of handling conflict have consistent, powerful effects on constructive conflict. Team members with cooperative goals engage in open-minded discussions where they develop and express their opposing positions, including the ideas, reasons, and knowledge they use to support their positions. They also work to understand each other’s perspectives. They are then in a position to combine the best of each other’s ideas and create effective resolutions of conflict that they are both committed to implement. Teams that rely on cooperative, mutual benefit interaction ways of managing conflict and avoid competitive, win-lose ways been found to use conflict to promote high quality decisions, to stimulate learning, and to strengthen their work relationships. What has an impact on constructive conflict is not so much the occurrence, amount, or type of conflict but how leaders and employees approach and handle their conflicts, specifically, the extent to which their discussions are cooperative and open-minded.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedia of Business and Management
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9780190224851
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Aug 2019


  • incompatible activities
  • mutual benefit conflict
  • win–lose conflict
  • constructive conflict
  • open-minded discussions


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