Thoughts on Managing the Top Ten Types of Conflicts


ConflictConflict: it’s a reality of life-working-with-others, and generally healthy for people and organizations interested in stretching and growing. But there are conflicts which are positive and productive, and conflicts which are unproductive, and conflicts that may not be resolved. You can learn from the conflicts you have with others – about yourself, and your company, about others, about your fit with your company and with others. The top ten types of conflict patterns we see are below.

Conflicts of Reality are all centered on how we gather, see and use data (or not) to proactively make choices.

1. Data is not considered

The most effective managers and leaders understand not just the bigger picture of the decisions they make, but also the facts, logic and data behind a decision – the reality of the circumstances described in measurable, quantifiable terms. If the data is not considered, and two parties are in conflict, then factors such as politics, favoritism, nepotism, and other non-merit based factors will determine which way a conflict gets resolved.

2. Data is slanted in one direction

Data is just facts, and facts can be intentionally or unintentionally slanted. In evaluating the data referred to during a conflict, ensure that the data measures the right things, that you’re comparing apples-to-apples, that the people producing the data are ethical people without ulterior motives. Take also other measures to ensure that the data is pure, impartial and informative.

Or risk that the conflict would get resolved in the wrong direction, leaning on the mis-information of tainted, slanted data.

3. Emotions cloud the data

Sometimes the most stressful types of conflicts come when one party or both (all) parties are so emotionally charged that the facts, the data are ignored, disregarded or slanted. It’s difficult to resolve this type of conflict when there are deep, long-term relationships involved. The best thing to do is to separate the emotions from the facts, difficult as it might be, particularly if *you* are the person experiencing those deep emotions. Making the conversation about the data and information in front of you is the logical approach to resolving this type of conflict. And waiting until the emotions can be managed on all sides might be the most practical thing to do.

Accept that if the emotions run deep, there may be too much resistance to resolve the conflict. If the data and information aren’t considered in making a fact-based decision, it would be difficult to resolve a conflict as there’s a danger of agreeing to something illogical, nonsensical, unfair, and/or short-sighted.

Conflict of Goals conflicts center around the thinking and objectives of two differing parties, who have different priorities and realities.

4. Abundance vs. Scarcity Mentality

When resources are scarce, and the pressure is on, many people develop a scarcity mentality and think that others are jockeying for the budget, influence, relationships, etc. that they have. There are others in the same group or organization who naturally think more collaboratively, despite the immediate circumstances. Their mentality is that of abundance: the more we cooperate and share, the larger the resource pool is for all.

Conflict naturally occurs between people with these differing schools of thought. Those with a scarcity mentality might take offence to those from the abundance mentality and vice versa. Focusing everyone on how to work collaboratively, and how to cooperatively share tight resources will help to resolve immediate conflicts, and creating circumstances where resources aren’t as scarce, and collaboration is rewarded will help resolve these types of conflicts before they start.

5. Short term vs. long term goals

Sometimes you can have a conflict of two parties who are both right – with one party focusing on the short-term needs of the person/group/organization, and the other focusing on the longer term needs of same. In these cases, consider how you can have it both ways, addressing the greatest short-term and long-term needs. Fold the perspectives and objectives of the other party into the short-term and long-term plans for all. Invest in the relationship through transparent, direct communications and collaborative long-term and short-term strategies.

6. Individual vs. Group vs. Company

Sometimes two parties put their priorities behind single individuals, individual groups, or the company as a whole. Identifying who’s out for themselves as an individual, the total needs of the group, and the overall needs of the company can help resolve these types of conflicts.

In general, parties that put individuals/themselves first are far less likely to be doing the right thing for the group or company, by definition. Spelling out the objectives of the larger group or company may be all that’s needed to shift the goals of these people. The same goes for parties that are more group than company focused in their priorities.

Second Degree Conflicts arise when one party or the other represents the position of someone else, without necessarily reflecting their own perspectives and goals.

7. One representing many

Sometimes the person in conflict share the opinion and position of the person, group or organization he/she represents, but not necessarily all the nuances of why that particular position is taken. Working with his or her to fully understand and shift their position and helping them lobby those other parties would be necessary to resolve the conflict. Identifying whether this is the case, and the nuances of the goals and tactics will increase the likelihood of conflict resolution.

8. Masked representation

Sometimes the person in conflict is not representing his or her own perspective, but that of another person or group or organization, yet doesn’t directly and communicate these motivations transparently. Their behavior and goals may be puzzling; there may appear to be a missing piece. Discovering the deeper motivations of all parties would help identify whether this is happening to one or both parties, and may lead to conflict resolution.

A Conflict of Values is difficult to resolve, and agreeing to disagree may be the only option.

9. See differently about right and wrong

For cultural, moral and other reasons, sometimes two parties may disagree on what the right and wrong thing to do is. Sometimes it’s the circumstances that split two parties; sometimes they would disappear no matter the circumstances. But if there’s a fundamental disagreement about what ‘doing the right thing’ is, and sufficient measures have been taken to enlighten both parties on the others’ perspective, it’s time to agree to disagree and move on.

10. Different perspective on what respect is

How respect is shown to someone varies greatly between individuals and cultures. Sometimes behaviors one party might find innocuous is highly offensive to the other party. And sometimes there’s no getting over that perceived lack of respect. Identifying when this happened and why is your only chance toward a positive resolution.

The bottom line is that understanding why the conflict is occurring and the underlying motivations of both parties is a big step forward to resolving them. And communicating directly and transparently will help ferret out motivations and goals on both sides and identify a win-win resolution/the best course of action.

Bringing it back to *you*: What types of conflicts often characterize your relationships with specific people, and what does it say about what you’re doing now, and what new behavior patterns would be more productive for you?

If you’d like to hear specific stories about any of the conflicts above, or share one of your own, please e-mail us at


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