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The Importance & Proper Management of Conflict

By John P. (Pat) Philbin, Ph.D., PMP

President & CEO

As I observe examples of conflict in my own life and across the globe, I looked for opinions of those much smarter than me to understand whether there are strategies within my control that have the potential to produce better outcomes. In Optimal Outcomes, Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D. provides proven strategies to help “people everywhere free themselves from conflict.” On the heels of my most recent blog about The Problem with Egos, I thought the insights shared by Dr. Goldman-Wetzler highly relevant.

According to the author, “conflict is a natural, normal, healthy part of everyday life.” I agree, although it has taken a while for me to acknowledge this! It should be a healthy part of performance culture in organizations, but those who are unable to recognize “conflict loops” that we all experience as humans are vulnerable to habits and patterns that reduce our ability to see solutions. Dr. Wetzler identified four conflict habits that “keep us stuck in patterns that perpetuate the conflict loop.”

These include:

1. Blaming others, which may rely too heavily on one’s competitive spirit;

2. Shutting down, which may be based on conflict avoidance or the “fight or flight” syndrome;

3. Shaming yourself, which assumes you take the blame regardless of the actual cause; and,

4. Relentlessly collaborating, which means a willingness to collaborate at any cost.

Conflicts require us to “increase clarity” by understanding complexity. There are multiple factors that lead to conflict, so it is important to “map out” these complexities to avoid reducing the situation in simple “us-versus-them” terms.

Understanding your ego and the role it plays is important to effective decision-making, but so is emotion! The author identifies three emotion traps that include the (1) Knee-Jerk Reaction Trap; (2) Inaccessible Emotions Trap; and (3) Lurking Emotions Trap. People who have the insight to recognize these and avoid them are significantly more effective at conflict resolution. Dr. Wetzler offers strategies to address these—such as “Practice pausing,” “Letting your emotions settle,” and, “Asking what your emotions are trying to tell you.”

Creating clarity allows us to take “constructive, pattern-breaking action.”

The ideal practice involves our ability to “Honor Ideal and Shadow Values—Yours and Theirs.”

As I interpret this practice, we must be true to our core values that includes the explicit as well as the implied. For organizations, which are made up of people, what we say internal and external must align with what we do internal and external; otherwise, we will be perceived as disingenuous.

Seems pretty simple to me.

Best regards and be well,



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