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Conflict Management

In today’s complex organizations, a focus on teamwork, especially in management-level teams, makes identifying and resolving conflict in the workplace increasingly important for managers to navigate successfully. Conflict in organizations is often broken into two kinds. Task conflict involves disagreements about the way work should be done. In fact, task conflict is often positively associated with organizational outcomes, where dynamic teams accept differing points of view from team members, resulting in creativity, flexibility and learning. On the other hand, relationship conflict is more complex. Relationship conflict is interpersonal conflict between coworkers that runs deeper than task conflict, reflecting individual differences not necessarily related to the team’s goals but resulting from differences in personalities, belief systems, interests, values and point of view.

The ultimate goal for managing conflict is conflict resolution. Managers have a number of tools at their disposal for resolving conflict, and we often hear talk about negotiation, mediation and alternative forms of dispute resolution.

According to Sternberg and Soriano1, conflict management styles are quite consistent for individuals in a range of scenarios, and can be well predicted from certain intellectual and personality characteristics. There are five generally accepted styles of conflict management:2

  1. Competing: This style reflects a high concern for achieving ones personal goals, and looks at conflict as having winners and losers.
  2. Accommodating: This style is often viewed as appeasement, where participants in a conflict put their relationships before their own personal goals.
  3. Avoiding: With an avoiding style, managers who are met with conflict disengage – avoiding the conflict becomes more important than protecting relationships or achieving personal goals.
  4. Compromising: In this conflict management style, participants are willing to give up some of their goals to reach a compromise, but are concerned more about conflict as a bargaining exercise rather than an experience for achieving goals and managing relationships.
  5. Collaborating: Collaborating conflict management styles reflect managers’ focus on teamwork and finding outcomes that make everyone better off. As a result, both personal goals and relationships between those in a conflict situation are seen as highly important. As a result, understanding and learning a collaborative conflict management style will be increasingly important in today’s complex organizations.

At, we offer students a selection of research and scenario analysis to help business students learn and better understand the study and use of conflict management in the workforce.


1. Sternberg, R. J. and Soriano, L. J. (1984). Styles of Conflict Resolution. Journal of Personality and Social Pyschology, 47(1), 115-126. 
2. Kilman, R. and Thomas, K. W. (1977). Developing a Forced-Choise Measure of Conflict-Handling Behaviour. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 37, 309. 

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