Leadership and Conflict: For Better or for Worse

There is no doubt that leaders of organizations have enormous influence on how often, how intense, and what impact conflict has on their business. Organizations can not avoid conflict: how it occurs is the question. There is constructive and destructive conflict that can occur. Constructive conflict allows the participants to disagree, perhaps argue, without losing sight of organizational goals. Destructive conflict occurs when the conflict is personal, thus causing individual goals to override those of the organization. Destructive conflict stops the open flow of communication, and ultimately affects the bottom line.

Leaders are human, so some leaders are comfortable with conflict, while others are not. Some leaders enjoy conflict, and actually set coworkers against each other to see who comes out on top. For those leaders that are not comfortable with conflict, their organizations usually have cultures that reflect their discomfort – difficult messages are not delivered, thus lowering the quality of communication and productivity. Disputants speak about their conflict with everyone else, but not the person they are in conflict with!

Managers that are comfortable with conflict usually allow it to occur and encourage creative problem-solving. They know that conflict will occur: they also know it needs to be resolved in order to have a healthy organization.

Think of your favorite retail establishment. Why do you like it? Are you treated well, is there a positive interaction with salespeople? That goes directly to the manager and how he/she treats conflict, among other things. Amiable, disciplined managers know how to have an emotionally intelligent team that is creative, collaborative, and communicative.

Leaders who lead through intimidation or autocratic rule usually have organizations that incorporate shouting matches, blaming, and responsibility avoidance. Internal competition becomes so intense that it hurts overall organization results. Very few leaders like to admit that is their style, but if your organization has these symptoms, you really need to take a look at how you are leading.

What can be done to ensure that the relationship between leadership and conflict results in more collaborative problem-solving? Here are a few suggestions:

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About the Author

Dr. Diane Katz has worked with organizations, professionals for over 40 years. With a Masters Degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Conflict Resolution from Union Institute, she has applied her education to organizations large and small.

Diane has spoken to groups across the United States in over 20 cities, reaching thousands of professionals. She has spoken about decision-making, conflict resolution, organization development, and professional development. She thoroughly engages her audiences with intelligence and wit.

Dr. Katz started her consulting company, The Working Circle, in 1995. The Working Circle provides organizational development, human resources, teambuilding, training and coaching to organizations of all sizes, having served over 150 organizations. Some of her company’s clients have included Pricewaterhouse Coopers, The University of Arizona, Raytheon Missile Systems, U.S. Border Patrol, Westin La Paloma Resort, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, DR Horton Homebuilders, YWCA of Southern Arizona, and the Pima County Attorney.