Relationship conflict management

Different people and different cultures participate in conflict in different ways. People ́s attitudes toward conflict can be shaped by their personalities and behavioral preferences as much as by their families and cultural backgrounds. There is a strong cultural aversion to conflict and even our brain is hardwired to avoid conflict because it can be dangerous.

Nevertheless, it occurs as a natural part of human relationships, conflict is everywhere around us. Leaders and everybody engaged in dealing with other people must learn to like handling conflict and this happens when conflict is seen as a challenge, a problem to be solved, and an opportunity, something positive.

To develop the right attitude for managing conflict, leaders should think of it as cholesterol. Once they compare the negative impact of bad cholesterol with the benefits of good cholesterol, they will likely feel more motivated to adopt whatever practices are needed to reduce unhealthy conflicts and increase the healthy ones.

Skilled leaders purposefully encourage debate, disagreement, and discussion over ideas, issues, and important decisions. The higher the stakes in a key decision, the more vital it is to stimulate a healthy conflict.

The roots of conflict

The root of all conflict is both broken bonding with people and failure to handle loss. Bonding can be broken for a number of reasons: differences in goals, differences in values, differences in perception of the problem, differences in communication styles, insecurity, role confusion, search for ego identity.

Under many visible conflicts, very often-personal needs that connect to the deeper wounds someone carries in their mind and heart are hidden and unless ways to meet these needs are found, the conflict will remain. By understanding how losses can touch the deepest levels of a human being and which emotions they may feel, we are able to appreciate better how people behave before, during, and after a conflict intervention.

  • Loss – Personal question – Need
  • Loss of attachment – Who am I connected to? – Need to feel connected
  • Loss of territory – Where do I belong? – Need to feel a sense of belonging
  • Loss of structure – What is my role? – Need to feel important and valued Loss of identity – Who am I? – Need to know my values
  • Loss of future – Where am I going? – Need to know direction and have a positive expectation
  • Loss of meaning – What is the point? – Need to find purpose to situations
  • Loss of control – I feel overwhelmed – Need to feel in control of the situation or my destiny

The dynamics of a healthy relationship

To keep a healthy relationship with someone and resolve conflict in a successful way, attention must be paid to the relationship as well as the goals. Here some actions that can be taken:

  1. Balance reason and emotion. Emotions are essential to problem solving, they can convey important information, but when they overwhelm reason we cannot work well with other people. We need emotion guided and tempered by reason and reason informed by emotion.
  2. Understand each other. We need to understand each other ́s interests, perceptions, and notions of fairness to achieve a mutually acceptable agreement.
  3. Communicate well. The greater our communication, the better working relationships we have.
  4. Be reliable and honest. Commitments disregarded easily are worse than no commitments at all.
  5. Persuade rather than coerce. The less coercive and the more cooperative the influence is, the better our ability to work with each other.
  6. Feel mutual acceptance. Feeling accepted, worthy, and valued is a basic psychological need.

Successful conflict resolution

When one comes to believe that a problem cannot be solved, one find ways not to solve it although the solution for that problem exists indeed. The manifestations of conflict are many, yet the principles for resolving conflict are simple; basically four:

  1. Never create an enemy. Where one see an enemy transform that person into an ally.
  2. The person is never the problem. Separate the person from the problem and focus on the issues to be resolved rather than the person. Avoid personalizing conflicts at work.
  3. Maintain a sincere desire to help the other person get what he wants or needs. Showing an authentic interest in what the other person wants instead of overemphasizing what ones want. Both verbal and body language are involved.
  4. Never be hijacked by attacks and intense emotions. The secret is not taking aggressive words or actions personally.

Deal with conflict in a constructive way by cultivating bonds through an apology, a word of praise, or a moment of recognition. There is no destructive conflict.

Mastering conflicts in leadership teams

The health of an organization provides the context for strategy, finance, marketing and technology and gives it the greatest advantage. According to Patrick Lencioni the first step out of four a leadership team has to take if it wants the organization to be healthy is to make itself behaviorally unified. And the first behavior for building a cohesive team once they trust one another is the mastering of conflict.

When there is trust, conflict becomes an attempt to find the best possible answer. Team members and leaders must overcome the tendency to run from certain discomfort which any disagreement causes. It is by looking for potential disagreements that may have not come to the surface how leaders avoid destructive hallway conversations and achieve productive debate.

The ideal conflict point is far from destructive conflict and from artificial harmony. Ideal as it is, leaders have to learn to accept occasional destructive behaviors that will overcome easily within a trustworthy team.


A win-win attitude is an essential ingredient for effectively managing conflict. At the heart of conflict resolution is the ability to respectfully negotiate toward common goals and mutual benefits.

Conflict is one of the most reliable indicators of a team that is continually learning. In great teams conflict becomes productive.

Learning to manage conflict will make our lives richer, without fearing disagreements, by turning arguments into relationship-enhancing experiences.



  • KOHLRIESER, George. “Hostage at the Table” LENCIONI, Patrick. “The Advantage” JOHNSON, Lauren Keller. “How to Encourage Healthy Conflict” Harvard Management Update