Workplace Management

Limiting Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict is not a dirty word, any more than results and impact.

By R.L. Caldwell August 15, 2016

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 One of the most critical capacities of any organization is the ability of leaders and employees to work effectively across multiple departments or divisions. Invariably, conflict can be expected to rise due to differences in leadership style. Unclear, inadequate or conflicting prioritization of goals and incentives, both within and across departments; lack of needed and timely resources; or just good old politics, silos and cliques hamper productivity. While many would like to wash their hands of conflict, that’s likely not possible.

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. If there was no conflict, the Pilgrims never would have boarded ships to seek asylum, a new form of democratic government would not have been formed, and abolishment of slavery and women’s right to vote would not have occurred.

Most human behavior, especially conflict, can range from low to high at different ends of the spectrum—positive, negative, or somewhere in between, depending on stakeholders, their intent, personal comfort level and ideologies. Intent and Impact are the two critical words.

Conflict can be negative as a means to dominate, control and win at the cost of another individual or group, usually resulting in others bearing the negative outcome. Conflict in its most negative form doesn’t care about issues, inequalities, injustice or negative impact on others, but rather it’s concerned with a childlike need to win or be right, dominating or controlling for one’s own gratification.

But conflict also can be positive, with the ability to bring underlying issues to the table for discussion, collaboration and new actions to move forward, especially when a “win-win” is created across multiple groups.

Such collaboration should not be flimsy or unprincipled compromise. It should result in doing what is in the best interest of the larger group with fairness and common ground for all critical stakeholders.


  1. Invite and involve. In creating organizational strategy and change, it’s important to assure all critical stakeholders are invited to the table early in the game, not as an afterthought.
  2. Select stakeholders with a vested interest in success. Choose people who have the ability to participate in a meaningful way and the commitment to take the necessary next steps, dismantle roadblocks and support needed changes and agreements in a sense of quality and urgency.
  3. Have a strategy for effective communication. Prioritize and define goals, resources and alignment across groups, including next steps, follow-through and metrics for the most positive impact on the organization, employees and customers.
  4. Assure stakeholders have the ability to understand the “big picture.” This includes understanding root causes and not merely symptoms, including power, position and credibility. They also need to make and support needed decisions and changes, and have a mindset for a “win-win” for all parties.
  5. Assure stakeholders have listening and empathy skills. They should have the emotional intelligence to understand and care about others’ viewpoints.
  6. Create a shared vision of what future success looks like for all parties. Make sure it’s authentic, with no smoke and mirrors, words or actions that lack substance.
  7. Use metrics. Measure value-added results and not merely activities. 

R.L. Caldwell has been working with organizations for 25-plus years, helping design, lead and implement strategies in organizational development, leadership development, strategy and change. She has served as both an internal and external consultant to the Fortune 500, including medium-sized firms. Sectors include energy, technology, pharmaceutical, hospitality, finance, insurance and higher education. To learn more about the SCF Leadership Academy contact Lee Kotwicki at (941) 363-7218 or [email protected]. 

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