This is how to address the three major types of conflict

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As a conflict specialist in negotiation and mediation, I want to share with you the three major types of conflict and how to address each. These are task conflict, relationship conflict, and value conflict. A recent Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation article focused on this topic. This article summarizes key points and expands on this topic to give you additional pointers that will help you in these areas. Each type requires targeted conflict resolution tactics. Let us look at each type separately.


Task conflict


For example, you are at work and are to carry out a given task. What could go wrong? How about issues related to who does what, when, how, and at what level of quality? How about training, priorities, and differences of opinion relative to the task related to processes, procedures, and policies? Often, the leader can meet with the parties and provide clarification, priorities, and direction to help overcome differences of opinion. The leader usually has a bigger picture in mind and can truly listen to the parties and respect everyone. This will allow the leader to assist with fact determination, understand the issues, and address the parties' interests.

The leader may be a mediator between the parties to a degree.

In their role as mediator, the leader can give each party in conflict the opportunity to fully air their concerns and then work with the party to paraphrase, summarize, and empathize with the party. The leader can dig deeper by asking open-ended questions. When the other party is speaking, the leader can focus on what else I should ask to help this party work through this issue.

Applying a collaborative problem-solving process can facilitate collaboration.

These ten ideas can foster collaboration and help build problem-solving skills within the group. Being authentic and genuine can also help you develop relationships with others. Once you have established this connecting relationship and listened actively, you may be able to educate others who can be educated.


Relationship conflict


Everyone has their unique personality, style, experiences, and perceptions. Your experiences are not theirs. Realizing this, it is important to realize everyone has a unique perspective on how they see the world and what can set them off. So how can you have a good relationship with someone who is quite different than you? Could you explore what you can about them? What can you find out on social media such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media? Network with others at work. What areas can you find in common? Location? History? Children? Pets? Outside interests? Sports? Cultural events? Problems with the organization? Change? Stay above the red line, but try and find ways to relate to one another.

How might you best be able to meet with this person?

 Over coffee? Over lunch? On a virtual social meeting? Being able to hear their words, their tone of voice with their words, and their face and body language go a long way towards genuinely communicating attitude. Your goal is to find ways to relate to each other with common interests to demonstrate shared humanity. Think about honesty, integrity, compassion, community, respect, balance, collaboration, and what each of you has a passion for in life. Do you have common priorities you can share?

By addressing these types of interests in common, you may be able to develop a connection. This may lead to a relationship that is authentic, genuine, and relatable.

Once you have created the relationship, it may be possible to talk about your source of tension.

You may use a phrase like, “I know this is not something you may want to hear, but I feel, as a friend, you need to hear this.” Then, share and listen. Be empathetic. Do not offer advice. Relate to the other person and ask questions that may lead that person to an answer that may help them with their situation. By being respectful, empathetic, and listening actively the other person is likelier to listen to you.

If this approach does work, it may be necessary to discuss the situation with your manager. Having first tried relating as a human being, a better understanding of the other party to a conflict may help you and your manager going forward.


Value conflict


Values were introduced in the last section. It is hoped that by focusing on shared values, you can relate to each other. Our fragmented society has fundamental differences in politics, religion, ethics, and beliefs. Today, these spill over into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), affirmative action, corruption, unethical clients, and other areas. When these areas arise, individuals can become very defensive. This can promote distrust, lack of cooperation, lack of collaboration, and lack of understanding. According to the article, Dr. Lawrence Susskind recommends a “values-neutral” approach. This is the ability to describe what someone else believes about the situation. It may be possible to reframe the commentary and de-escalate the situation between the participants or with the help of a neutral, impartial mediator.

Focus on common values that you both share. By focusing on what you have in common, you may be able to work together.


A brief example success story


While in school I had a summer job inspecting sewers with another guy. One of us stayed on top of the ground with a clipboard, and the other went down into the sewer with a safety harness, hard hat, and a safety line. The top guy was there to help pull the bottom guy out if fumes overcame the inspector in the sewer. Among the people I worked with was a white supremacist Nazi, and another was a member of the black panthers. They never worked together, but I had to figure out how to work with each for my safety. Applying the techniques offered here in this article, I now know, I can confirm that using some of the elements shared here worked for me. The situation may stink and may be dangerous, but they work. Consider the advice presented here and see if some of these ideas may also help you with your situation.

Let me know what you think.

If you need assistance or want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills, check out these links.


About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]