Conflict Management Styles

hrioYou can use this information to improve your conflict management skills, and/or to teach your students or others. There is also an exercise to apply the appropriate conflict style to conflict situations and six questions to apply the theory to your own personal and/or work-school situation. This information is adapted from my Human Relations in Organizations: Applications, and Skill Building 10e (Chapter 6),McGraw-Hill, 2017. If you share this information with others, please be sure to reference (link to this blog) this source.

Some people think a conflict only exist when someone does something that makes us really mad. However, a conflict exists whenever people are in disagreement and opposition. You are in conflict when you get aggravated at someone, or when someone does something that bothers you, and conflict is part of every relationship and every social system. You don’t want to avoid it; you want to manage it effectively to maintain and improve relationships because, if you don’t, you can hurt feelings, kill important relationships, and damage your career. In this blog we discuss the psychological contract and functional and dysfunctional conflict and the five conflict management styles.

The Psychological Contract

The psychological contract is composed of the implicit expectations of each party. You have a set of expectations about how others will interact with you, and how you will interact with them. Often we are not aware of our expectations until they have not been met. When people meet our expectations, everything is fine; when they don’t meet our expectations, we are in conflict. Conflicts arise when the psychological contract is broken, which happens for three primary reasons:

  • We fail to make explicit our own expectations.
  • We fail to inquire into the expectations of others.
  • We assume that others have the same expectations that we hold.

Implications. If you have watched the TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” you know that Sheldon Cooper doesn’t rely on implicit expectations. He has a written contract of expectations, and contracts are an important part of business law. Sheldon is extreme, but the lesson here is that it is important to share information and communicate expectations assertively. After all, how can you expect others to meet your expectations when they don’t know what they are? And it’s really hard for people to know that they’re bugging you if you don’t tell them in a positive way.

Getting back to my last teamwork blog, self-interest roles can lead to conflict, whereas the maintenance role can help resolve conflicts. You want to develop positive norms that include encouraging team members to be open and honest about their expectations and to resolve conflict effectively (I’ll provide a model for doing so in my next blog). Having positive norms of clear expectation leads to cohesiveness. When team members are not happy with their status,they can cause conflict, so it is important to have everyone feel that they are welcome in the team as valuable members. When making decisions, conflict can arise, and it can be functional or dysfunctional, so keep it functional.


  1. How would you rate your ability to let others (personal and work/school) know your own expectations, to find out their expectations, and not assuming others have the same expectations that you have? How can you improve?
  2. Select a team you belong/ed too. How would you rate its ability to deal with members’ expectations? How could it be improved?

Functional and Dysfunctional Conflict

People often think of conflict as “fighting” and view it negatively. However, conflict can be positive or negative. Functional conflict exists when disagreement and opposition support the achievement of organizational objectives. Functional conflict can decrease complacency and reveal inefficiencies. This, in turn, can lead to a more positive work environment, increase employee creativity, and enhance motivation, morale, and performance.

On the other hand, conflict that prevents the achievement of organizational objectives is negative, or dysfunctional, conflict. Dysfunctional conflict is often personal and can bring about many negative outcomes within an organization, including damaged relationships, decreased productivity, revenge, avoidance, and aggression. Have you ever heard coworkers complain to the boss or about each other’s performance behind each other’s back? Well, this clearly leads to dysfunctional conflict within the team.

Implications. Try to keep conflict functional. The longer you wait to deal with conflict, the harder it is keep it from being dysfunctional.


  1. Are the conflicts you deal with (personal and work/school) more functional or dysfunctional? How can you improve?
  2. Are your team conflicts more functional or dysfunctional? How can the team improve?

Conflict Management Styles

When you are faced with conflict, you have five conflict management styles to choose from. The five styles, along with concern for your own and others’ needs; passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior; and win-lose combinations, are discussed below. Some advantages and disadvantages and the appropriate use of each conflict management style (there is no one best style) are also discussed.

Avoiding conflict style users attempt to passively ignore conflict rather than resolve it. When you avoid a conflict, you are being unassertive and uncooperative. People avoid conflict by refusing to take a stance, by mentally withdrawing, or by physically leaving. A lose-lose situation often results because the conflict is not resolved.

Avoiding can lead to building frustration and blowing up at the person—passive aggressive behavior, which often results in ongoing arguments, and the conflict is never resolved. So don’t let emotions build up; confront others early and stay calm. However, there are times when it is best to avoid an argument over a trivial matter that may hurt your relationship, and when you are emotional—wait until you calm down. There are also situations in which you don’t have time to resolve the conflict right away, so avoid until you have the time to resolve the conflict.

Accommodating conflict style users attempt to resolve conflict by passively giving in to the opposing side. When you use this style, you are being unassertive but cooperative. You attempt to satisfy the needs of others but neglect your own needs by letting others get their own way by doing something you really don’t want to do. A win-lose situation is often created. However, teamwork is based on relationships, and it is often important to do things we don’t really want to do for the benefit of others; to maintain relationships. Parents know about accommodating kids.

You may like being a follower and maintaining relationships by doing things other people’s way, but it can be counterproductive when you have a better solution. An overuse of accommodating tends to lead to people taking advantage of you, and the type of relationship you try to maintain is usually lost anyway. We often have to accommodate our bosses, especially when they use a forcing style.

Forcing conflict style users attempt to resolve conflict by using aggressive behavior to get their own way—narcissists use this style. You are uncooperative and aggressive; you do whatever it takes to satisfy your own needs. Some managers commonly use their position power to force others to do what they want them to do. Forcers use authority, threaten, intimidate, and call for majority rule when they know they will win. Forcers commonly enjoy dealing with avoiders and accommodators.

Overuse of this style leads to hostility, poor relationships, resentment toward its user, and usually to lower levels of productivity. But when the boss is right, like enforcing rules or openly challenging the manager’s authority, it should be used.

Users of the negotiating conflict style,also called the compromising style, attempt to resolve conflict through assertive give-and-take concessions. When you use the negotiating style, you are moderate in assertiveness and cooperation. An “I win some, and you win some” situation is created through compromise.

Compromise may lead to counterproductive results, such as sub-optimum decisions. An overuse of this style leads to game playing in which people ask for twice as much as they need in order to get what they want. However, in true negotiation situations, it should be used, as well as when the issues are complex and critical and there is no simple and clear solution. In a future blog, I will present negotiating skills.

Users of the collaborating conflict style, also called the problem-solving style, assertively attempt to resolve conflict by working together with the other person to find an acceptable solution to all parties. When you use the collaborating approach, you are being assertive and cooperative. This is the only style that creates a true win-win situation, because negotiating really leads to an “I win some, and I lose some” situation. For example, two people that travel together by car each like different music. If for half drive shift they each listen to the music they like, they are negotiating. However, if there is a third station they both like and agree to listen to, this is a collaboration.

Collaborating tends to lead to the best solution to the conflict. However, it takes more skill, effort, and time to resolve conflict. There are situations in which it is difficult to come up with an agreeable solution, or when a forcer prevents its use.

Applying the Concept: Conflict Management Styles

Identify the most appropriate conflict management style to use in each situation. (Answers are at the end of this blog.)

  1. Avoiding Style
  2. Accommodating Style
  3. Forcing Style
  4. Negotiating Style
  5. Collaborating Style

____ 1.  Cindy joined a committee that she has no real interest in to make contacts. At a meeting, she makes a recommendation that is opposed by narcissist Karl who is using a forcing style.

____ 2.  Ted is on a task force that has to select a new high-tech machine. The four alternatives will all do the job, but team members disagree about the brand, price, and service.

____ 3.  Liang is the sales manager. Competent sales rep Hank is trying to close a big sale. The two are discussing the next sales call, and they disagree on the strategy to use to close the sale.

____ 4.  Jessica is on her way to an important meeting and running a little late. As Jessica leaves the office, at the other end of the work area she sees Bonnie socializing instead of working.

____ 5.  Kirkland is over budget for labor this month. The store currently is not busy, so he asks Kendra, a part-time employee, to leave work early. Kendra tells him she doesn’t want to go because she needs the money.


  1. Which one of the five conflict management styles do you tend to use most and least often? Explain. How can you improve your conflict management? For example, if you don’t tend to use the avoiding and accommodating styles when appropriate, work at giving in to others by saying or doing nothing or by going along with others’ way of doing things.
  2. Think of one of your present or past bosses and give examples of the conflict management style that person used most and least often.How would you rate the boss on conflict management?

For most people, the two most difficult styles to develop are the negotiating and collaborating styles. Thus, in my next November blog I will present how to use the collaborative style to initiate, respond to, and mediate conflict. In December, I will present how to use the negotiating style.


B1.          Accommodating style. When the conflict is not important to you but is for the other party, let it go. If you take a stance against the other person, this person and others that side with this person will not help in networking.

D2.          Negotiating style. This is a situation in which there is no simple clear solution, so a compromise is appropriate.

E3.          Collaborating style. This is an important issue that requires an optimal solution. Bonnie needs to feel comfortable going into the sale. If you try to force Bonnie to do it your way, she may rebel and intentionally lose the sale to show you that you were wrong. If you both agree on the strategy, the odds of closing the sale will be higher.

A4.          Avoiding style. You don’t have time to confront the employee now; however, when you get back, you should.

C5.        Forcing style. It is part of the manager’s job to implement unpopular decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *