Growth through people

Managing conflict…

Circle of conflict

Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable, especially when people share a working space or resources.

Not all conflict is unhealthy, though. If managed effectively, conflict serves as a stimulus for new thinking, enables change, and encourages creativity, problem solving and innovation.

Unfortunately, research into workplace conflict paints a gloomy picture:1

  • 85% of employees experience conflict
  • For 29%, conflict is frequent
  • The top 3 causes of conflict are personality clashes and warring egos (49%), and heavy workloads (33%)
  • 31% of managers think they handle conflict well, but 43% of their employees disagree
  • 54% think managers need to address underlying tensions before matters escalate 

The ability to manage conflict is therefore  one of the key foundational skills of leadership.

Conflict Statistic

As with any problem, breaking conflict down into its component parts is the first step to effective resolution. 

One of the most comprehensive and practical approaches to conflict diagnosis is The Circle of Conflict  model developed by conflict mediator Christopher Moore, adapted by Gary Furlong in The Conflict Resolution Toolbox.2,3

This helps us to identify the ‘what’, to enable us to figure out the ‘how’.

They defined conflict by one or more of six typologies:


Relationships are nearly always compromised to some degree in conflict situations. However, it’s important to distinguish between strained relationships being as a result of the conflict, or the primary cause.


Values conflicts are caused by perceived or actual incompatible belief systems: our values!

Our values point to what we believe is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust. Value disputes arise when one party attempts to force their set of values on another, or when one party has a value system that does not allow for divergent beliefs.

Circle of Conflict Model


This segment of the circle covers anything not directly involved in the dispute, but leads to or drives the conflict. For example, poor sales performance, company restructuring etc.

In other words, any external force that puts stress on working relationships that function normally under usual circumstances.


Data is information that tells a story. It can create or escalate conflict if there are differing views on which information is required, or if information is missing, incomplete, incorrect, withheld, or misinterpreted.


Structure considers all organisational factors that could contribute to conflict – e.g. procedures, process, ownership – together with geographical, physical, or environmental factors that limit cooperation


We’ve all heard the phrase ‘conflict of interest’. Here, conflict is caused by competition over perceived  incompatible needs.


Once we have diagnosed, we need to actively manage to resolve.

We all have our own individual and preferred way of managing conflict. Our approach is influenced by our upbringing, life experiences, where we are in our career, and the specifics of the situation – especially a difference in power or position.

The way we resolve conflict is also largely influenced by our personality.

By understanding our preferred conflict management style, and how our personality influences our approach to conflict situations, we can modify – adapt – our behaviour according to the situation, and choose the most appropriate conflict resolution style.

Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right. It is about acknowledgment and appreciation of differences.

Thomas Crum
Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes
Insights Discovery Polar Opposites


  1. CPP Inc. (2008). Global Human Capital Report: Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive. (download).
  2. Moore, G.W. (1986). The mediation process: practical strategies for resolving conflict. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Furlong, G.T. (2005). The conflict resolution toolbox: Models & maps for analyzing, diagnosing, and resolving conflict. Mississauga, Ontario: J. Wiley & Sons Canada.
  4. Kilmann, R.H., Thomas, K.W. (1977). Developing a forced-choice measure of conflict-handling behavior. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 37(2).
  5. Blake, R. R., Moulton, J. S. (1964). The managerial grid: The key to leadership excellence. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Co.
  6. Kilmann, R.H., Thomas, K.W. (1975). Interpersonal conflict-handling behavior as reflections of Jungian personality dimensions. Psychological Reports, 37(3).
  7. Johnson, A.K. (1997). Conflict-handling intentions and the MBTI: A construct validity study. Journal of Psychological Type, 43.
  8. Marion, L.A. (1995). Conflict management and personality type among community college executives. Dissertation Abstracts International, 56(5-A).
  9. Gupta, S. (2014). A study on the relationships between MBTI psychological types and MODE conflict styles. Asian Journal of Management Research, 5(1).