Examples of Conflict Management in the World

While it helps to have a strong theoretical framework when learning about conflict management, the best way to solidify your understanding is to study what conflict management looks like in real-world situations. In this section, we will walk through some conflict management examples set in three different categories: world, workplace, and personal life. With each of these examples, we will look at the nature of the conflict, as well as try to see if there is a good solution for resolving the conflict.


Word War II and the United Nations

While any war serves as an overt example of what can happen when conflict is allowed to escalate without proper management, World War II remains perhaps the most powerful. This is due not only to the sheer number of lives lost to conflict, but also to how the Allies’ victory brought about the establishment of the United Nations as an international body responsible for managing and defusing conflicts between nations around the globe.1

However, even though the United States and the USSR were allies during World War II and worked to establish the United Nations cooperatively, they soon became embroiled in the Cold War.2 Because of this, the countries who joined the United Nations were pushed to ally with either the United States or the USSR, dividing the organization’s votes and thereby thwarting the organization from involving itself in many geopolitical conflicts that pertained to the ideological war being fought between the United States and the USSR.3 And since most of the geopolitical conflicts during the latter half of the 20th century were related to the Cold War, the UN was largely ineffective during this time. It was only after the USSR collapsed and the Cold War came to a close that the UN was able to live up to its original vision. The UN oversaw more peacekeeping missions in the five years after the end of the Cold War than in the first four decades of its existence.4

Figure 1.2: The Western bloc (blue) and the Eastern bloc (red) during the Cold War.

Image by Chronus, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This example is a great demonstration of how detrimental a conflict of interest can be to mediation processes, as the UN’s conflicts of interest essentially crippled it from carrying out peacekeeping operations for the majority of its existence. Mediation requires genuine independence from the parties involved in order to be able to facilitate fair and evenhanded conversations between the parties.

The European Union

In 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, a move which Serbia rejected outright by refusing to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.5 However, the European Union was able to step in and facilitate negotiations that resulted in the 2013 Brussels Agreement, which normalized relations between the two nations. As of 2020, Kosovo is recognized as a sovereign state by 98 member states of the UN.6 At the same time, the European Union itself has been fraught with internal conflict over the United Kingdom’s repeated attempts to leave the EU. This has resulted in failed negotiations and domestic acrimony in the UK.7 From this example, we can see that even bodies which are supposed to be responsible for establishing and mediating negotiations between arguing parties can become beleaguered by conflict within. From this example, we can see that even bodies which are supposed to be responsible for establishing and mediating negotiations between arguing parties can become beleaguered by conflict within.

Figure 1.3: The location of Kosovo as a province of Serbia before 2008. It is now recognized as an independent state by 98 member states of the UN.

Image by Rowanwindwhistler, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Task-Based Conflict

Imagine that you have a new coworker, Maggie. During her first week in the office, she asks you for help putting together a presentation. You tell her you can’t help because you have your own task load and don’t have the time to spare. Afterward, you get the sense she feels slighted by your refusal to help her. Fast forward two weeks, and you’ve been assigned a new project that you really need Maggie’s help to complete. You have emailed her asking if she would be willing to help you out, but she has not responded. The deadline for your project is fast approaching. What should you do?

Conflict management begins with open communication and cool tempers. In this case, take the initiative to resolve the conflict and acknowledge that you feel sorry for not having been able to help Maggie when she needed it. While this scenario sounds unbearably awkward to most people, it is usually better to address tensions that could otherwise go on festering for weeks, months, or even years. Moreover, people will respect you when you show the maturity and self-awareness to express that you regret that things didn’t go well and would like to start over. That said, it is important to have realistic expectations going into the conversation. It is unrealistic to expect to instantly have a friendly relationship with Maggie in this scenario. If she gets the sense that you expect that, it may seem disingenuous to her. All you have to convey is that you want to patch up your relationship as coworkers so that the two of you can work together productively.

Leadership Conflict

Ronaldo has been a portfolio manager with Company A for over two years. He has overseen consistent portfolio growth and is well liked by higher-ups who see him as someone who knows how to motivate his analysts to deliver. However, some of the analysts have been known to express issues with Ronaldo’s style of leadership. They claim he has a habit of micromanaging analysts he does not feel are performing to his standards. They also feel he is quick to point the finger when something does not go the way he hoped. When it comes to his work, Ronaldo is by no means perfect. When things do go wrong, he is often unwilling to acknowledge his own part in the portfolio team’s failures. One of his best analysts, Alicia, has been notedly vocal about her dissatisfaction with the situation. She has expressed to HR that she is thinking of leaving the company. How can this conflict be resolved?

First of all, the answer depends on whether the conflict is going to be resolved by negotiation or mediation. In the case of negotiation, it would be up to Alicia and Ronaldo to settle the matter between them. However, if it appears that neither of them is willing to concede their respective positions, mediation is the best strategy for bringing them to common ground. When implementing mediation, the most important step would be to make both employees feel that their needs and feelings are being heard. This is especially necessary since this issue seems to boil down to one of personality differences. When both employees have an opportunity to express themselves in a safe, controlled environment, they will be more likely to separate emotion from reason and think clearly about how they can reach a solution that is to both of their benefits.

Work-Style Conflict

Figure 1.4: Simon and Jessica may both need to make concessions to work together more harmoniously.

Image by Jopwell via Pexels.

Simon and Jessica work together in the sales department of a sports nutrition company. Jessica has been with the company for four years, whereas Simon is a relatively new hire. Both are proficient workers, but they have completely different work styles. While Jessica is the type to want to organize and methodically plan every step of her week’s workload, Simon is more of a go-with-the-flow kind of person and tends to feel restricted by anything resembling a plan. The problem is that because they work in the same department, they often have to work together on certain tasks. As a result, they are feeling annoyed with each other. What can be done about this?

The difficulty with this situation is that work styles are something that cannot easily be changed just by talking about them. In this case, because the sales department is small, neither of them can be moved so that they don’t have to work together. For these reasons, this is a matter where both parties will need to be willing to compromise. This can be achieved if they strive to empathize with each. Whether they seek to resolve this in a negotiation setting or a mediation setting, both Simon and Jessica must be able to share why it is they are unhappy with their working relationship and how the other person’s work style is making them feel. If they can do this, they will see each other less as obstacles and more as people. Hopefully, this will help them mutually agree to make certain concessions to accommodate the other person’s work style so that they can work together more harmoniously.

Personal Life

Thanksgiving Decisions

Bill and Jamie, a married couple, are at their wits’ end trying to decide whose parents’ house they are going to visit for Thanksgiving. Jamie’s argument is that they visited Bill’s parents for Thanksgiving last year, so it is only fair they visit her parents this year. Bill’s argument is that his parents have been in ill health for several years now, and he doesn’t know how many more Thanksgivings they have left. Jamie feels that Bill is being selfish and neglecting her feelings, whereas Bill feels that Jamie is being insensitive to his and his parents’ circumstances. How can they stop arguing?

Though these types of issues may seem less significant than workplace issues, oftentimes personal issues can be the hardest conflicts to manage. They can be that much more emotionally charged and often the tensions are running high. With both Jamie and Bill feeling entirely justified in their respective positions, they are beginning to resent each other for being unwilling to give in. What makes this conflict that much trickier is that while both of them may have valid arguments, ultimately, there is only one Thanksgiving. Reaching a compromise will require both of them to remove themselves briefly from their own mindset and try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. If they can do this, it will put them in a better place to negotiate. Perhaps Bill could propose visiting Jamie’s parents for Thanksgiving this year so long as Jamie agrees they will visit his parents for Christmas, or vice versa. However, if neither Bill nor Jamie is willing to negotiate, then either or both of their parents could intervene as mediators. It is likely that if their parents knew that this argument over Thanksgiving was causing such a rift between Bill and Jamie, they would surely rather devise a compromise than risk any further damage to the couple's relationship.

Wage Negotiations

Maryann has been babysitting for her neighbor, Mrs. Walker, for the past year. She is compensated at a rate of $15 per hour. However, for the last month, Mrs. Walker’s seven-year-old son, Henry, has been bringing his friend Jacob over on the days that Maryann babysits. This means she ends up looking after two children instead of one. Maryann wants to hang on to this job. While she likes the Walkers and needs the money to save up for college, she finds herself getting home from babysitting much more tired than she used to. It is even beginning to affect her grades in school. What can she do about this?

The obvious answer here is that Maryann needs to have the confidence to approach Mrs. Walker and negotiate for a raise or better working conditions. In our day-to-day lives, we tend to let certain matters of conflict slide with the people we know on a personal level because we want to get along with them. However, unmanaged conflict does not disappear, and if not properly dealt with will only become a more serious problem later on. In this instance, it is Maryann’s prerogative and responsibility to let Mrs. Walker know how her job has become more difficult. That’s not to say Maryann should immediately ask for an increase in pay or blame Mrs. Walker. All she has to do is explain the situation and relate her own experience in a way that Mrs. Walker will be able to empathize with. It will then be up to Mrs. Walker to either double Maryann’s pay on the days that she is looking after two children or to forbid her son from bringing his friend over on the days that Maryann is babysitting. If Mrs. Walker is a good employer, she will choose one of these solutions. If she responds unkindly by insinuating that Maryann is ungrateful or that she is trying to squeeze more money out of her, then Maryann can determine for herself whether Mrs. Walker is someone she really wants to work for.