The Importance of Conflict Management Skills in the Workplace

In recent a Washington Post article (“Career Coach: Having Technical Skills Isn’t Enough in Today’s Workplace”) Joyce E. A. Russell, vice dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programs at  the University of Maryland, notes that: “In today’s highly competitive world, it is often the softer skills that differentiate applicants, and determine who will get hired, who will be successful and who will move up in the organization.”

Some of the most important skills she notes include integrity, work ethic, being a team player,  having a positive attitude and enthusiasm, adaptability and flexibility, effective communications and confidence, openness and receptivity to feedback, and creative thinking.

Some areas that she notes particularly relate to skills and aptitudes that can be gained through taking course work in conflict resolution and management. These include critical thinking and problem solving.  She states: “Being able to analyze information and put it together; being able to see the interrelationships among various functional areas to address problems”  are essential for employee success.

The last important soft skill set she recommends is collaboration, conflict management and negotiation skills.  Russell contends that “(b)eing able to work effectively with others and effectively address conflict as it arises; being able to persuade and influence others”  is important in today’s workplace.

This need to demonstrate conflict resolution skills on the job is also noted in a piece published by PRWeb (“Personality Clashes Found to Be the Major Cause of Workplace Conflict”).  Citing statistics from Consulting Psychologists Press, the article notes that:

  • The average American worker spends 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict in the office
  • “Chronic unresolved conflict” in the office is the deciding factor in 50% of cases where an employee chooses to leave his job, and is of one the primary causes cited in 90% of terminations
  • 42% of employees felt that their employers needed to do a better job of addressing personal conflict in the workplace

These observations confirm what Jennifer Batton and Susan Lohwater (“Developing a Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies Program”  in Peacebuilding in Community Colleges: A Teaching Resource) found in conducting surveys of potential employers in the process of developing a certificate in peace and conflict resolution at Cuyahoga Community College.   They state: “Those skills included understanding conflict, understanding how emotions influence conflict, communicating effectively, and problem solving…across all disciplines and professions.”

As a result, across all vocational and career areas, not only those offered in community colleges but in liberal arts and state universities, it will be increasingly important to provide course work and other learning opportunities for students to build their conflict resolution and management skills.

ADDENDUM May 27, 2014

The Washington Post Career Coach columnist, Joyce E. A. Russell, interviewed Brenda Freeman, from DreamWorks Animation about the role of women in the workplace: “Don’t avoid confrontation and conflict. Just be strategic about how you manage it.  Managing conflict is probably one of the most critical skills.” (“Leadership tips for women,” Washington Post, May 4, 2014)

ADDENDUM May 29, 2014

This piece written by Katie Shonk at the Program on Negotiation Daily Blog reports on a study from the Journal of Applied Psychology which argues that at times we reap the benefits of conflict at work. (“When Conflict Doesn’t Require Conflict Resolution”, May 28, 2014).


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