Decision-making & Managing Conflict

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Types of Conflict

In the workplace, conflict is inevitable, usually occurring when one party perceives that their interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party. Conflict can produce either a positive or negative outcome. By being able to identify potential conflict before it arises and knowing how to effectively manage it, you will be able to help your staff increase the chances of turning conflict into a positive outcome. There are two types of conflict, functional and dysfunctional.

Functional conflicts

Functional conflicts are constructive, support your company's goals, and improve performance. It generally involves people who are genuinely interested in solving a problem and are willing to listen to one another.

Stimulating functional conflict is a great way to improve your team's performance and generate new ideas. It involves getting your team to either defend or criticise ideas based on relevant facts rather than on the basis of personal preference or political interests.

There are two widely accepted techniques for doing this: devil's advocacy and the dialectic method.

Devil's advocacy

This method involves assigning a team member the role of a critic. This person should always question and critique any ideas that your team may have, usually resulting in critical thinking and reality testing. However, it is recommended that this role gets rotated amongst your team to avoid any particular person from developing a strictly negative reputation.

Dialectic method

This approach involves facilitating a structured debate of opposing views prior to making a decision. By hearing the pros and cons of all the different ideas, your team will have greater success in making sound decisions. However, it should be noted that a major drawback of thisTypes of Conflict method is that the emphasis to win a debate often clouds the issue at hand.

Dysfunctional conflicts

Dysfunctional conflicts on the other hand, consist of disputes and disagreements that hinder your company's performance. This generally involves people who are unwilling to work together to solve a problem and is often personal.

When dysfunctional conflicts arise in the workplace, there are various methods for dealing with it, including: integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding, and compromising.


This method is also known as problem solving and generally involves encouraging opposing parties to confront an issue and cooperatively identify the problem, generate alternative solutions and select the most appropriate solution. Misunderstandings and similar disputes can often be resolved using this method. 


This occurs when a person neglects their own concern in order to satisfy the concern of the opposing party. A characteristic of this conflict management style includes playing down differences while emphasising on commonalities.


Also referred to as forcing, people that adopt this approach often have an "I win, you lose" mentality. Dominating relies on formal authority to force compliance and is generally appropriate when unpopular but necessary solutions are implemented.


This involves either passive withdrawal from the problem or active suppression of the issue.  It is generally appropriate for trivial issues or when the negative effects of confrontation outweigh the benefits of resolving the conflict.


This is a give-and-take approach for resolving dysfunctional conflicts and is particularly useful when the parties involved possess equal power.

The following are some examples of situations that can produce either functional or dysfunctional conflict:Types of Conflict

  • Incompatible personalities
  • Overlapping or unclear job boundaries
  • Competition for limited resources
  • Inadequate communication
  • Interdependent tasks
  • Unreasonable rules
  • Unreasonable deadlines or extreme time pressure
  • Collective decision making (the greater the number of people participating in a decision, the greater the potential for conflict)
  • Decision making by consensus
  • Unresolved or suppressed conflicts

As a leader or manager, you should be continually aware of staff interactions within the workplace. As such, you should carefully observe and react appropriately to these early warning signs as they have the potential to lead to major conflict, reduce morale, motivation and cause business inefficiency.

List taken from Organizational Behavior: Core Concepts by Angelo Kinicki