How to Get the Most From Conflict

Susan Shearouse lists five sources of conflict in her book, “Conflict 101.”

Information conflicts are disagreements about facts or data.

Interest conflicts center on underlying concerns, desires, and needs. In order to solve them ask, “What are your concerns,” rather than who is right or wrong.

Structural conflicts involve limited resources and are often solved by individuals with decision-making authority.

Relationship conflicts are about history, communication styles, stereotypes, and trust.

Values conflicts are the toughest to solve because fully embraced values are non-negotiable.

Leading the organization I serve from an “insider focus” to an “outsider focus” represents a shift in behaviors based on a shift in values. Three years after initiating that shift there are varying levels of adoption; everything from 100% to tolerance.

Dealing with Values Conflicts:

  1. Stop convincing others your position is right while theirs is wrong. Values are personal convictions not moral absolutes.
  2. Realize values differ from person to person. Your number one value may be another’s number four. Agree to disagree.
  3. Focus on mission and vision rather than the disputed value. Are you accomplishing your mission? For example, shifting from insider to outsider focus expresses our mission in new dimensions and gives fresh meaning to established programs.
  4. Build on and strengthen relationships. Leading a shift in focus includes affirming and valuing dissent based on mutual respect.

Realize variations in the priority of a given value proposition is normal and important in creative, diverse organizations. For example, one segment in my organization loves outsider focused projects; another loves insider focused. Every growing organization needs both.

You have my sympathies if you’re in a values based dispute. It’s a disagreement centered on the fundamentals of behavior. My suggestion is reject the temptation to assume moral high ground while demonizing others. Rich organizations are diverse. The ultimate issue remains, are you accomplishing your mission.

Finding the high road:

Once they arrive, failure and conflict are great opportunities for growth. Understanding the sources of conflict along with corresponding solution-finding-strategies lifts leaders and organizations to new levels of fulfillment and effectiveness.


This post is based on Shearouse’s book: Conflict 101.


What strategies do you employ to resolve conflicts?