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Handling Conflict

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

At some point in every manager’s daily life, you will be faced with the need to resolve conflict, either:

  • Conflict between two of your colleagues
  • Conflict between a colleague and someone else (a supplier, customer or distant colleague)
  • Conflict between a colleague and yourself

Two of the most valuable conflict management models have already been covered in the Management Pocketblog.

Exercise 1: Review Ellen Raider’s AEIOU Model

As a major figure in researching conflict, Morton Deutsch should be your first port of call. Read through the Pocketblog: Conflict: as simple as AEIOU. What are the direct lessons for you, from this blog?

Exercise 2: Review the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes

The most widely used model for understanding your choices when you approach conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes model, which you can read about in the Pocketblog: Is this Relationship going to Work? Look at the five modes and ask yourself which ones you tend to over-use and which you tend to under-use.

Exercise 3: Review the basics of Mediation

If you ever need to mediate between conflicts, then the Pocketblog: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right will help you grasp the basics of the role, setting out six basic steps. Which steps do you do well, naturally, and which do you tend to skimp on?

All of this reading back should allow you to start to form your own ideas about what makes for productive handling of conflict. For me, there are six elements. I will offer three tips under each.

Element 1: Attitudes

  1. Respectful of differences: conflict arises out of differences – as soon as you respect those differences, conflict softens.
  2. Open Mind: try to see the other person’s point of view and what matters most to them: Respect that.
  3. People are not the problem – while behaviours may be unwelcome, distinguish the person from their attitudes, needs and behaviours.

Element 2: Discovery

  1. What do you know already: inventory.
  2. What do you not know: shopping list.
  3. What are the causes: a step towards solutions.

Element 3: Core Skills

  1. Listening: until you really hear, you cannot respect or discover the truth.
  2. Language: clear, straightforward and respectful use of pronouns (‘I’ takes responsibility: ‘you’ sounds accusatory).
  3. Calm: find ways to calm yourself so you can control your responses and remain objective.

Element 4: Strategies

  1. Spot the signs of rising tension early: move in to defuse the conflict before it gets properly started.
  2. Keep working: if you break contact, conflict will escalate in the gaps.
  3. Welcome contributions: make all contributions welcome by inviting, acknowledging and valuing every effort the other person makes.

Element 5: Support

  1. Ask for it: whenever you need it.
  2. Offer it: whenever you can.
  3. Match it: to the needs of the situation – is facilitation or mediation or arbitration the right approach?

Element 6: Cautions

  1. Avoid the mindset of trying to ‘win’. Look instead for a resolution that both parties will value.
  2. Right and wrong: are rarely appropriate categories – if they were, the conflict would be far easier to resolve.
  3. Blame, punishment and retribution: have no role. In the film Papillon, Leon Darga says ‘blame is for god and small children.’

Further Reading

  1. Resolving Conflict Pocketbook
  2. Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook
  3. Mediation Pocketbook
  4. The free ACAS Advisory booklet – Managing conflict at work
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Conflict: As simple as AEIOU

Well, if you think the title means you can solve every conflict easily, you must be living in a different world from the rest of us!

Intractable Conflict

Indeed, one of the foremost books on conflict resolution, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, even has a chapter on ‘Intractable Conflict’.  Intractable conflicts come in three flavours:

  1. Conflicts over irreconcilable moral differences
  2. High-stakes conflicts of distribution of resources
  3. Conflicts over relative power or place in a hierarchy

Day-to-day Conflict

So, I will set the moral, resource and power stakes a little lower and talk about simple workplace conflicts; like ‘who moved my chair?’ or ‘why do you never wash up your coffee mugs?’.

Being able to resolve daily conflicts like these is an important workplace skill, and one that is often overlooked in schools, colleges and training for job-starters.

How bad will it get?

Morton Deutsch Morton Deutsch is considered by many as the founder of our modern theory and practice of conflict resolution.  He wrote widely and The Resolution of Conflict is one of the most important books on the subject.

In it, Deutsch sets out seven factors that determine how well (constructively) or badly (destructively) the conflict will go:


  1. The characteristics of the parties
    … their values, aspirations, intellectual and social resource, attitudes to conflict, and power relationships
  2. The prior relationship between them
    … including their attitudes, beliefs and expectations about each other, and the levels of trust
  3. The nature of the issue causing the conflict
    … its scope, flexibility, significance, expression
  4. The social environment of the conflict
    … the encouragements and deterrents, social norms, mediating agents
  5. The stakeholder to the conflict
    … their relationships to the parties and to each other, their own interests and characteristics
  6. The strategy and tactics employed by each party
    … their legitimacy or illegitimacy, the use of incentives such as promises of rewards or threats of punishment or coercion, openness and integrity of communication, commitment, what they appeal to
  7. The consequences of the conflict to each party
    … and also to other stakeholders: gains and losses, precedence established, short- and long-term effects, reputational impacts


Deutsch founded the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1986.  It is committed to developing knowledge and practice to promote constructive conflict resolution, effective cooperation, and social justice.

There, the former training director, Ellen Raider, developed a useful mnemonic device that has been used in training in workplaces and educational institutions.

AEIOU Conflict Management Chart - Ellen Raider

Students who are taught this mnemonic find it easier to share their needs and acknowledge other peoples’ needs and so work towards a solution.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook

The Teamworking Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook

The Working Relationships Pocketbook

Learn More

Here is an hour-long interview with Deutsch and, if conflict really interests you, there are also interviews with other key thinkers in the field on the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (SCAR) website.


It seems Ellen Raider’s is not the only AEIOU model for conflict management.  A cursory wander around the web also unearthed:

  1. Acknowledge-Express-Identify-Outcome-Understanding
  2. Assume-Express-Identify-Outcome-Understanding
  3. Active Listening-Empathise-Intent-Options-Underscore
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