Conflict management approaches

The desired outcomes of conflict resolution procedures are dictated by the types of conflicts involved.  Informal conflicts, which occur between or among members of an organization because of differences in opinions, principles, and priorities, have only two desired outcomes.  The first is called primary goal, which refers to what either of the disputants gets out of the resolution of the conflict in terms of personal benefit.

The second is contingent goal which concerns the relationship between the disputants:  whether the resolution of the conflict will harm or strengthen their relationship from then on.  Since an informal conflict is oftentimes resolved only between the employees concerned, the desired results would be either to benefit one of the disputants (perhaps after a heated debate or after strong-arm tactics) and jeopardize their relationship, or reach a compromise without directly benefiting either of the disputants, and maintain their good working relationship.

Formal conflicts, on the other hand, which involve policy or human rights violations, are matters for official corporate management procedures because these conflicts are oftentimes probable subjects of legal actions.  Resolving formal conflicts entail the participation of third party mediators, either from within or outside the company.  Citing Sheppard (1994), Jameson identified four broad categories of desired outcomes for formal conflicts.  These are fairness, participant satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency.  She said that while Prein (1987) named ten possible desired results, all of them could be classified only under three of Sheppard’s categories.  Shown in table below are the desired results identified by Sheppard and Prein.

SheppardPreinFairnessTo institute better rules and proceduresParticipant satisfactionTo find a fully acceptable solutionEffectivenessØ  Improve the relationship

Ø  Prevent repetition

Ø  Teach parties to manage conflict more effectively in the future

Ø  Work on a structural solution by altering work structure

Ø  Create more clarity

Ø  Learn from the conflict without resolving it

Ø  Try to create a workable solution

Ø  Find a pragmatic solutionEfficiencyThe three major concepts behind the author’s proposed strategies for conflict resolution are: interest-based strategies, rights-based strategies, and power-based strategies.

Interest-based strategies. There are four interest-based strategies, two of which are informal conflict strategies (negotiation and advising or seeding advice), and two are formal conflict strategies (facilitation and mediation).  Negotiation means that the disputants, on their own initiatives, settle their disputes between themselves without third party intervention.   Advising or seeking advice is resorted to by one or both disputants after realizing that the dispute could no longer be settled between them.

The third party acts as a counselor, advising both parties and helping them understand the viewpoint of one another.  Facilitation covers three third party-assisted strategies: facilitated ADR (Contantino and Merchant), a strategy where a third party helps disputants look for points of agreement; procedural approach (Prein), where third parties underline the importance of identifying and solving the problem; and collaborative strategy (Kolb and Glidden) which encourages disputants to open up and share relevant information in order to stimulate mutual understanding and prevent further recurrence of procedural flaws.  The last interest-based strategy is mediation (Sheppard).

Here, a neutral third party serves as a guide in the process of dispute resolution by helping disputants “engage in perspective taking, [guiding them] toward a realistic settlement, help improve the relationship between [them], or engage in some combination of these tactics.”

Rights-based strategies. Sheppard (as cited by Jameson), indicated two types of this strategy.  The first type is the adversarial intervention, where the disputants are allowed to freely present their cases before the third party, acting as a judge and juror, decides on the appropriate solution.

The second is the inquisitorial intervention where control of the proceedings is in the hands of the third party who questions the disputants instead of allowing them to freely present their cases, before pronouncing judgment.  Another rights-based strategy, though non-binding, is called advisory ADR identified by Costantino & Merchant.  This strategy enlists an external third party and includes “private judging, mini-trials, summary jury trials, early neutral evaluation, and advisory arbitration.”

Power-based strategies.   Here, Jameson cited Karambayya & Brett’s strategy of employing autocratic third parties who make use of their positions in the organization to impose solutions or restructure tasks to reduce interdependence between disputants in order to avoid further conflicts, as well as the use of rewards and punishments to compel disputants to settle their problems.  Jameson finally said that another approach to power-based strategies is what was pointed out by French & Raven as the appeals made by losing disputants to someone higher up in the organization for a possible reversal of the ruling made by the internal third party.


Jameson, K.J. (1999). Toward a Comprehensive Model for the Assessment and

Management of Intra-organizational Conflict:  Developing the Framework.

International Journal of Conflict Management. Bowling Green.