Conflict Leadership

Engaging 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.


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?

Conflict Leadership

Dealing with Anger in Conflict

Anger has had a variety of parts in my life. As a young boy my mom says that I often became angry and fought with my classmates in elementary school.

Anger in Conflict


At that time I seemed to express my anger at others, but as I have grown older I slowly shifted my anger expressions less towards others and more towards myself or alone by myself.

One event that has had a deep impact on me and how I deal with conflict is when I was a freshman in high school and I was engaged in a fight that caused me to be suspended from school for five days. (You should have seen the other guy!) If I was more calm, self-confident, and intelligent I would have dealt with the situation differently. However, when a Junior classman who outweighed me by about 90 pounds decided to push me I fought back. As a result, I was suspended and rightfully blamed in the matter.

Conflict Leadership

My Style in Conflict

I recently participated in The Friendly Style Profile (Gilmore & Frarleigh, 2004). My personal style of responding to conflict seems to be primarily based in the Analyzing/Preserving and Affiliating/Perfecting categories. Here are my scores:

  • Accommodating/Harmonizing – Calm at 22 and Storm at 25
  • Analyzing/Preserving – Calm at 28 and Storm at 27
  • Achieving/Directing – Calm at 24 and Storm at 21
  • Affiliating/Perfecting – Calm at 26 and Storm at 27

Conflict Among Others


Deducing which of these categories I fit into during conflict is difficult because I find a little bit of myself in all of them. As Dr Dunn stated, “The odds are that you will probably see a part of yourself in most of these qualities.”[ref]Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “Personal Styles in Conflict” (lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 15, 2011).[/ref] I think my scores being evenly distributed is a relevant and true reflection on me. Who is involved in the conflict and where the conflict is at determine how I respond to the conflict. Since I am a calm and easy going person who is very relaxed it makes it hard for people to know how I might respond in a conflict situation. (At times, I am even surprised in how I respond.)

Conflict Leadership

Sources of Power in Conflict

Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue that leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. And within conflict there are specific sources of power I would like to share with you.


My sources of power in conflict are listening, asking defining questions, building cooperation, and clearly stating what I want. These sources of power are what you might expect from an introverted man because they are more subtle and silent than what most people have. Let me explain to you in more detail why I believe these are my sources of power.

A. Listening


Personal Reflections on Conflict

Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue the leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. 


My experience with conflict is that I often want to resolve it once I know it has occurred, but I hesitate to do actions or say things that I know will cause conflict. I have had conflict in life, but often the conflict I experience is with a boss at work which means that I have to submit. I can push back (if the area and time are appropriate) and share what my thoughts are, but the ultimate decision-making authority is not mine. This has been tough because it affects how assertive I am on a regular basis which then affects my character and personality while at work. One book says that “conflicts at work present important challenges that affect your career development” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 4). This definitely has been the case with me as an employee at the United Way of Stanislaus County where I have learned to create conflict when necessary while also having to back down from conflict in order to show respect and support for my boss.

Growing up, I saw my mom in conflict with my dad on many occasions. However, observing the positive conflicts they worked through later in their marriage has helped me to realize that it is ok to work through conflict once it has already been created. I definitely feel my family life has oriented me into types of conflict now that I know “our family of origin socializes us into constructive or destructive ways of handling conflict….” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 2).

As an introverted young man, I avoided conflict. I would hold my tongue, not speak my mind, and not take a physical action if it meant it might create conflict. And if I did anything that caused conflict, I would often apologize too quickly and too often. On the flip side, when I was in second and third grades, I often got into physical fights with other boys when we had a conflict. I do not remember much of this, but that might be another way I dealt with conflict as a young boy.


I believe that conflict is going to happen in anything you do. When you have people working together as a team towards a common goal, conflict is going to come up, especially as you mix in different age groups, sexes, philosophies, theologies, and leadership styles. When conflict does come up, I believe that violence should never be allowed or excused. Sometimes I think we try to excuse violence with the passion God has given us as if it stems from a supposedly good quality that we have. However, violence—whether it be is physical, verbal, or psychological—should not happen. If conflict does happen, we need to work on developing healthy habits to allow positive conflict resolution to happen.

In a Christian Ministry and Leadership class, my faith might (and should) play a role in the beliefs I have shared about conflict. My beliefs about conflict have slightly been shaped by faith within the church context by the positive and negative examples I have observed in churches. I have seen positive examples where church leaders and members knew they had a difference on an issue, and they consciously took time to talk about it, gather a mediator to assist, and even attend counseling together as a way to deal with church issues. Those have been some great examples of how the church positively works through conflict in a biblical and practical way.

However, I have also seen examples where church leaders develop conflict and stop talking with each other, publicly oppose each other, and even fire the other person. Being a somewhat new Christian I need to take some time to think about my faith and knowledge of the Bible in order to develop my beliefs from a biblical perspective. I know there are several ways conflict is handled both positively and negatively in the Bible, and maybe that is something I can and should dedicate more time to studying and thinking about. However, I do agree with our class discussion on Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 about how to deal with conflict.


Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue that leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. 

There are several values and principles that have informed my beliefs and actions about conflict.

I believe that we all can get along no matter what we are doing. I have learned from reading that “we can’t always choose the conflicts that come into our lives, but we can choose our responses to those conflicts” (Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation, 30). I also agree with what one professor states that “conflict is never fully and finally realized” (Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “Understanding Conflict: Introduction, Orientation, Theology” [lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 1, 2011]). Conflict is something that comes up again and again, which means we need to keep working through it. I also believe that conflict needs to be addressed quickly.

Several months ago I overheard a statement my landlords made about some lights I had sitting in the room I rent from them. As soon as I heard them talking about my lights, I guessed they might be displeased with me storing the lights in the room I rent from them. Within ten minutes I walked outside to explain to my landlord why I had a bunch of four foot long fluorescent lights in a small room. This is evidence that I want to resolve conflict when I know it exists. And finally, I believe that conflict can cause long term pain, issues, and division. Too many times I have observed conflict that was not handled well which resulted in loved family members distancing themselves from each other and coworkers leaving their jobs specifically because of one person with whom they could not manage to resolve conflict.


I have three personal conflict related goals.

A. Have Healthy Conflict with my Supervisor

The first goal I have is to be able to effectively function in conflicts with my supervisor in a productive way so we can both look towards the goals we have and discuss how to get there. (Skill Domain—Functioning.) At work I sometimes feel that my supervisors and I have a goal to raise funds for our community; however, we have different ideas and strategies of how we think we should get there. At times, my feelings resonate with Wilmot and Hocker who write, “Too much losing [with conflict in the workplace] will not build character; it builds frustration, aggression, or apathy” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 128). I think it is ok to lose a little bit in conflict at work, but when it happens several times a week and even several times on some days, it begins to discourage me. I believe this class will help me develop the communication skills useful for resolving and transforming conflict that I have on a regular basis at work.

B. Increase My Awareness of Conflict Styles

The second goal I have is to increase my awareness of my conflict styles, tendencies, and strategies. (Affective Domain—Awareness.) “We need to learn to manage ourselves” and“dealing with conflict starts with me” (Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “Understanding Conflict: Introduction, Orientation, Theology” [lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 1, 2011]). Thus far, as part of the exercises we have been through I have increased my awareness of my own conflict management style. I have noticed that I have a tendency to want to work through conflict when it already exists, but I also have a tendency to shy away when I need to do or say something that will create conflict. I hope to become more aware of these and other tendencies I have so I can positively work through them to improve my ability to navigate and resolve conflict.

C. Know the Theories of Conflict

The third goal I have is to have a deep understanding of the different theories and methodologies within conflict. (Cognitive Domain—Translation/Application.) For example, what power imbalances are there? What is going on? What method is best applied here? Where is power playing a part? Having a deeper knowledge of what causes conflict and the skills that it takes to deal with it will help me to translate what we learn into application to the world and areas I serve in.