Conflict Management Tools
How to manage conflict when it
can't be resolved
Because all conflict cannot be resolved, sometimes the conflict needs to be constrained and
managed to limit its intensity, and to prevent it from causing consequences that are unacceptable to those
involved. Conflict may also need to be managed to prevent other parties from being adversely impacted by the
fallout from an unrestrained conflict.
To illustrate how to successfully manage and control conflict, let's examine the case of the
Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union which lasted roughly from 1947 to 1991, a period of almost
The primary cause of the conflict was a difference in political and economic systems, and a
desire of each country to impose their system on each other as well as other countries of the world.
While the conflict never resulted in a shooting war between the two countries, it did
manifest itself in the use of proxy states and various espionage and propaganda activities designed to inflict
non-fatal damage and gain advantage over the other party.
The most dangerous aspect of the competition was a nuclear arms race that resulted in each
nation building and deploying approximately ten thousand nuclear weapons capable of striking and destroying the
other country. As each state increased their stock of nuclear weapons, it became clear that if one side used them,
the other side would have the capability to respond in a way that would ensure the complete destruction of the
other, and possibly the entire world.
Here are three of the strategies that were used to manage this historic conflict and prevent
the destruction of the human race. You can use these same three strategies to control conflicts that can destroy
your business and personal relationships.
The cost of the conflict was
Because the consequences of failing to manage the conflict would be unacceptable to everyone
involved, both parties showed restraint and managed the conflict to keep it from growing. In order for this to
work, both parties must feel that there is an approximate balance of power.
There was an approximate balance of
Because each side was able to deploy and maintain a similar size military, neither side was
encouraged to attempt to take advantage of the other. In personal and business relationships, power can be
expressed in many ways from the authority given by a superior to having control over a person's livelihood,
physical safety, or emotional state.
The key to successful use of this strategy is perception. If one party perceives that they
have an advantage, they may seek to exploit it and resolve the conflict in their favor. In the case of the Cold
War, both nations believed that destroying their opponent would lead to their own destruction. The strategy was
even given a name: Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD.
Each party shared a higher value
Even though the countries were in conflict over issues that were important to them
(democracy and capitalism vs. communism and socialism), they shared the higher value of preserving life, and that
value was more important than the ones that were in conflict.
Once again, perception can be critical because if one person thinks there is a common shared
value that will control the conflict and the other person doesn't share the same belief, they may be tempted to
exploit the perceived difference to their advantage
Put it to use
If you are involved in a conflict that can't be resolved, use these three strategies to
manage the conflict and prevent consequences that are unacceptable to you. Because perceptions are crucial to the
successful use of these tactics, be sure to ascertain your competitors' beliefs and perceptions as accurately as
By using these three proven methods your conflict can be managed and controlled.