Engaging in Conflict with Upper Management (part 1 of 4)

April 23, 2012 — 3 Comments

Today is part one of a four part series sharing some research I did on how to engage in conflict with upper management.


Engaging in conflict with upper management is a tough topic to discuss and an even more difficult thing to practice effectively.

Anger in Conflict
That “boss” you have conflict with secures your job via your annual performance review, and he might also be the person who personally signs your paycheck. As someone working towards the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, I have felt the consequences of good and poor conflict management when interacting with my boss. Some of the experiences I have been through have led me to want to do research to discover the answers to questions such as: How do I as a follower with two levels of management above me express my dissatisfaction about an issue or topic while still staying in line with my leader? How do I do a good job of being a team member who is loyal to his boss while also expressing my thoughts and views that are different than what my boss has? How do I express my views and ideas that conflict with the leader above me and have those ideas and views implemented?

The idea of a young leader at the bottom of an organization creating conflict is new to traditional management philosophies which believe that power belongs at the top and should stay there. David Lipsky and Ariel Augar write, “Dealing with conflicts in organizations has traditionally been the responsibility of managers and administrators who took an authoritarian view of conflict and how to deal with it.”[1] In the past, it was uncommon to have an organized method to deal with conflict created by a subordinate. And, some business leaders have legitimate grounds to believe conflict management systems promote workplace conflict and inevitably lead to higher levels of employee participation in decision making than is desirable.[2]

I believe it is good that we take time to think through what conflict looks like because conflict is going to happen. Former pastor and leadership expert John Maxwell tells us that, “Conflict will arise in any organization. Humans disagree because they are wired differently and have different agendas.”[3] Regardless of who you are or where you work in the organizational hierarchy you will have to engage in conflict. Reading through our text in class put it well this way: “Dealing with conflict is a little like being pregnant. It becomes clear at some point that the delivery needs to take place.”[4] Since conflict is something that will happen sooner or later, I would like to share two successful ways to engage upper management in conflict.

Question: Why do you believe engaging in conflict with upper management is important?

[1] David Lipsky and Ariel Augar, “The Conflict over Conflict Management,” Dispute Resolution Journal 65, (May/October 2010): 11.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] John C. Maxwell, The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 1204.

[4] Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and Lawrence Ressler, eds., Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999), 89.

Christopher L. Scott

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  • Thanks Anna.
    One of the reasons I have been excited to post this is that conflict happens throughout the organization, not just at the top.
    Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. 🙂

  • anna@mngttraining

    I like the points raised about not just traditional top management having a voice to persue conflict, and conflict can occur throughout the hierachy of an organisation – even those young leaders. The points made in this article have been a really interesting read – will look out for the next three parts to follow!

  • Pingback: Engaging in Conflict with Upper Management (part 2 of 4) | Christopher L. Scott | Biblical Leadership()