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How might you select your conflict management style?

There are times when we have a choice to engage in or avoid a conflict. The following six variables should be considered when you decide whether to engage in a conflict.

1. How invested in the relationship are you?
The importance of the working/personal relationship often dictates whether you will engage in a conflict. If you value the person and/or the relationship, going through the process of conflict resolution is important.

2. How important is the issue to you?
Even if the relationship is not of great value to you, one must often engage in conflict if the issue is important to you. For example, if the issue is a belief, value, or regulation that you believe in or are hired to enforce, then engaging in the conflict is necessary. If the relationship and the issue are both important to you, there is an even more compelling reason to engage in the conflict.

3. Do you have the energy for the conflict?
Many of us say, “There is not time to do all that I want to do in a day.” Often the issue is not how much time is available but how much energy we have for what we need to do. Even in a track meet, runners are given recovery time before they have to run another race. Energy, not time, is being managed in these situations.

4. Are you aware of the potential consequences?
Prior to engaging in a conflict, thinking about anticipated consequences from engaging in the conflict is wise. For example, there may be a risk for your safety, a risk for job loss, or an opportunity for a better working relationship. Many times people will engage in conflict and then be shocked by the outcome or consequence of engaging in the conflict. Thoughtful reflection about the consequences, both positive and negative, is useful before engaging in or avoiding a conflict.

5. Are you ready for the consequences?
After analyzing potential consequences, determine whether you are prepared for the consequences of engaging in the conflict. For example, one employee anticipated a job loss if she continued to engage in the conflict she was having with her boss over a particular issue. After careful consideration the employee thought and believed strongly enough about the issue that she did engage in the conflict with her boss. Her annual contract was not renewed for the upcoming year. Because this individual had thought through the consequences of engaging in the conflict, she was prepared to be without a job for a while and able to financially and emotionally plan for this outcome. Most consequences of engaging in conflict are not this severe, but this example illustrates the value of thinking through consequences.

6. What are the consequences if you do not engage in the conflict?
To avoid losing a sense of self, there are times when you must engage in conflict. Most people have core values, ideas, beliefs, or morals. If a person is going to sacrifice one of their core beliefs by avoiding a conflict, personal loss of respect must be considered. In such cases, even if a person is not excited about confronting the conflict, one must carefully consider the consequences of evading the conflict. When the personal consequences of turning away from the conflict outweigh all other factors, then a person usually must take part in the conflict.

References for Further Information

  1. Katzenbach, J.R., and Smith, D.K. (1992). Wisdom of teams, Harvard Business School Press.
  2. Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Holubec, E.J. (1986). Circles of learning: cooperation in the classroom (rev. ed.), Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.
  3. “Workplace Basics: The Skills Employers Want,” Am. Soc. Training and Devel. and U.S. Dept. Labor, Employment and Training Admin., 1988.
  4. Algert, N.E. (1996) “Conflict in the workplace” in Proceedings: Women in Engineering Advocates Network, Denver, CO., 123–127.
  5. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA: (800)624-1765 or available on the World Wide Web at
  6. Smith, K.A. (2000). Project management and teamwork. New York: McGraw-Hill BEST series.
  7. Blake, R.R., and Mouton, J.S. (1964). The managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.
  8. Algert, N.E., and Watson, K. (2002). Conflict management: introductions for individuals and organizations. Bryan, TX: (979)775-5335 or e-mail .
  9. Raudsepp, E. (2002) “Hone Listening Skills To Boost Your Career,” available on the World Wide Web at, accessed on 28 January 2003.
  10. Lambert, J., and Myers, S. (1999) 50 Activities for conflict resolution. Amherst, MA: HR Development Press.
  11. Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, F.P. (2000) Joining together: group theory and group skills (7th ed.), Boston, Allyn and Bacon.
Additional Resources
Algert, N.E. (2002). The center for change and conflict resolution, Bryan, TX: (979)775-5335 or e-mail .
Moore, C., “How Mediation Works” in The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict.
Putnam (1994). “Beyond third-party role: disputes and managerial intervention,” Employee Responsibilities and Rights J. (7:1).
Xicom, Inc. (1996). Conflict Workshop Facilitator’s Guide.

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