Western Continuing Studies

Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict can be costly. It can effect the bottom line of a company's performance, waste employees' time and impact the quality of decisions as people in conflict are less likely to share vital information and more likely to become enmeshed in power struggles. Poorly managed conflict can result in the loss of valuable employees and the expense of hiring and retraining new ones. It can lead to compromised job satisfaction, poor motivation and lack of engagement among employees.

Conflict is a natural part of any workplace. It arises for many reasons.

  • Different cultures, assumptions, values, opinions and beliefs
  • Insensitivity to race, gender, age, education and ability
  • Lack of people skills - especially communication
  • Fast-changing workplace
  • Limits on resources - physical and psychological


Constructive conflict resolution can benefit individuals and organizations. In Human Relations and Your Career, Social Psychologist David W. Johnson categorizes five styles of conflict resolution. Understanding each style can help managers and staff resolve conflict in the workplace.

Styles of Conflict Resolution

The Turtle
Turtles adopt an avoiding or withdrawing conflict style. Turtles prefer to withdraw into their shells and hide from conflict rather than face it. When confronted with conflict, turtles will abandon their own goals and relationships and display passive behaviours. The conflict will remain unresolved, and continued use of this style may lead to others walking all over the turtle.
The Shark
In contrast to turtles, sharks use an aggressive and competing conflict management style and want to win at any cost. Personal goals are highly important to the overpowering shark and the needs of others are a low priority. They do not care if other people like them, and they will try to win by attacking, intimidating and overwhelming their opponent.
The Teddy Bear
The teddy bear uses an accommodating conflict management style, and wants to keep the peace at all costs. Teddy bears need to be liked and will often ignore their own goals when faced with conflict in order to maintain the relationship.
The Fox
A fox deals with conflict by trying to compromise. Foxes are willing to sacrifice some of their goals while persuading others to give up some of theirs. Foxes are concerned with both goals and relationships; however, even though the relationship is maintained during conflict, the compromise may result in a less than ideal outcome.
The Owl
The wise owl will deal with conflict by collaborating. Owls view conflict as a problem that needs solving and will work with the other party to seek out solutions and ensure both sets of goals are achieved. Although this conflict management style can take some time and effort, both sides get what they want, and the tension is eliminated.

What style are you?

Conflict Management

Asserting Yourself Under Pressure
Collaborative Conflict Resolution
Facilitation Processes

...and more!

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