Why Study Conflict Management?

Are you tired of all the arguing and complaining?


This is what many clients talk with me about over coffee. Their experience of Conflict Management may be trouble with their Partner(s), the Board, or even key top performers. In some cases, it really has nothing to do with them, it’s the fatigue caused by having to hear the stories of wrongs committed between others below them, next to them, or even above them. They feel like referees having to make calls on plays they didn’t even see. It often leaves the listener feeling like they’ve been little more than a dumping ground of toxic refuse.

You may notice that I don’t use the popular phrase, Conflict Resolution. The reason? I don’t believe in it.  “Resolution” implies that “it” (the conflict) goes away. But the really important ones don’t. A better goal is to learn to manage the conflict to a low enough level that it infuses the joy and productivity back into the workplace. That’s more realistic, more attainable, and actually necessary.  

So, why study conflict management?

  1. Unmanaged conflict gets in the way of our most consistently desired, commonly shared goal…HAPPINESS! Conflict has a way of dividing us, making us forget what we have in common with those we are in conflict with. Sometimes we may even imagine this other party prefers the turbulent waters, but I assure you (with a small exception of abnormal personality) people really would rather be happy. So much of life revolves around finding happiness that it has to be true.
  2. Life has left most of us completely deficient of healthy or effective conflict management skills. Most of our families of origin (the ones we grew up in) not only did not equip us with healthy skills, they actually seared into our consciousness the worst possible tendencies. And by seared, I mean that they are lodged so deep in our subconscious that they manifest as some kind of a reckless autopilot bent on running us off the road into the ditch. There are three basic models practiced in families: Avoidant, Aggressive, and Collaborative. As I have surveyed hundreds of audiences, I have found that approximately 95% report that their family dealt with conflict in either an aggressive or avoidant way and often a combination of avoidant/aggressive. Only about 5% report that their family of origin used a collaborative approach. A funny sidenote: At this point in a presentation I can usually detect a bit of envy bordering on hostility toward those who had it so good.
  3. It is the number one cause of employee dissatisfaction, turnover, and manager burnout.  Studies show that under-managed conflict is a major factor in an employee’s decision to leave. They simply do not wish to “drag the trailer behind the car” anymore. Their work assignments are hard enough without the added weight of continuous skirmishes and ambushes. If that isn’t bad enough, our best and brightest — those we ask to manage the systems and human capital to its peak performance — report that as much as 40% of their time is spent listening to the drone of, “you won’t believe what so and so did” and many other “verses to the same song.” The manager begins to feel that they are in a no-win situation, torn between an employee’s request for anonymity and the need for intervention, both of which can lead to unfavorable outcomes.
  • Unmanaged conflict can defeat the best business strategies.  Like rust underneath an expensive paint job on a beautiful classic car, unmanaged conflict continues to eat away at the essential structure of business strategy.  Just when you think you are ready to execute, something fails. The energy, the ingenuity, the extra-mile effort — all part of the last 15% of employee contribution — is not there because fatigue from infighting has claimed it, or the employee withholds it to punish “Management” for not doing more to make the workplace more harmonious, or, in the most extreme cases, out-and-out sabotage. It’s an elite training ground to become the best version of yourself.  I often get requests to speak about communication This is difficult because there are so many shades of communication. Is the communication vague, infrequent, contradictory, redundant, misplaced, or unkind? (To name a few). When I talk through a client’s needs it usually ends up that what they really need is some type of training on Conflict Management. The reason is simple; If you can learn to communicate well in conflict space then you will acquire “special forces” level communication skills. Tools such as impulse control, empathy, wordsmithing and active listening — all vital to conflict management — begin to feel familiar and provide immediate payoff.

  • Living with unmanaged conflict will shorten your life.  The repetitious and unproductive release of cortisol (physiological), brought about by unsafe human interaction (psychological) has a well-documented negative effect upon our bodies. At the very least this usually results an increase in sick leave and workplace accidents. Ironically, those lower performing employees with the stomach to endure this assault on their well-being are the ones who will stick around, and organizations often end up losing the higher-performing employees who know they have options to pursue greener pastures.

There is hope!

Clients who commit to face the scary monster of conflict will be rewarded with the tools and resolve they need to defeat this enemy among us. Once they do they’ll emerge INVINCIBLE and UNSTOPPABLE!

Definitely worth the journey.