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Conflict and Power Struggle in the Workplace


Studying Conflict
Preventing Conflicts
Power Struggle
Power Struggle in Relationships
FAQ in Power Struggle
Beautiful Us




            Today, as you are leaving home, you notice that your roommate is wearing your favorite sweater without asking. Although it bothers you, you decide there isn’t time and you don’t want to make a big deal of it.  In the afternoon, you approach the checkout at the Paradise Palms Café and see a customer arguing with a cashier.  When you go to make a deposit at your local bank, you overhear two managers disagreeing over the duties of the new loan officer.  As you descend the stairs of Hamilton Library, you are relieved to be a library student because conflict “never” happens in the quiet confines of the library, right? 

            Unfortunately, conflict is unavoidable even when working in a library.  In order to deal with workplace conflict effectively, managers must be aware of conflict, understand how and why it occurs, and be able to apply the most appropriate methods of conflict management to each situation. 



What is “conflict”?  “Conflict,” according to Jonathan Lindsey, “is a condition in which the concerns of two or more individuals or operating units appear to be incompatible.” Lindsey offers the example of a negative job performance evaluation.  The manager giving the negative evaluation has a concern for the well being of the business or library and its extended interests.  The employee’s central concern, particularly in that situation, is saving face or even possibly a job.  The needs, interests, and concerns of both parties are incompatible.

Jo Bryson explains a different type of conflict, or “role conflict.”  According to Bryson, “Role conflict occurs when the appropriate behaviours for enacting a role may be inconsistent with the appropriate behaviours for enacting either another role or other requirements of the same role.”  Susan Johnson, a University of Hawaii, Hamilton Library librarian discussed an example of role conflict in a class lecture.  She said that a good librarian will accomplish certain things, such as clearing unnecessary or unusable books, but is rewarded for a different set of accomplishments.  Because librarians do not have time for both, they feel “role conflict.”

A more specific type of role conflict is a “person-role conflict.”  Bryson explains,  “person-role conflict occurs where a person is asked to fulfill a requirement which is against their personal values, attitudes or needs.  Such an example may be where the librarian must avoid acting as censor and so is forced to stock material which is in conflict with some very strong personal views.” This type of conflict can be very troubling to a librarian.

William R. Tracey outlines eight truths about conflict.  First, conflict is inevitable.  Tracey says “conflict will happen because of human nature.  Working together in close proximity over time will cause disagreements. . .”  Next, conflict is predictable.  “For example,” says Tracey, “aggressive staff members who are vying for promotions cause conflict in their efforts to move to the next rung on the ladder.”  Third, conflict is “proportional to the organization.”  A larger library, for instance, with more employees, will naturally experience more conflict.  Fourth, Tracey argues that conflict, if excessive, “can be disastrous” because it tends to spread outside the immediate environment to include patrons and other professionals.  Fifth, good managers can prevent many conflicts.  Sixth, conflict is “. . . complex.  It is often difficult for a library manager to unearth the real cause of a conflict.”  Seventh, trying to resolve conflict is risky because “it is difficult to separate two people in a fight, whether it is a physical, mental, or emotional conflict.”  Finally, conflict is “symptomatic.”  Perpetual conflict serves as a warning of a deeper problem within the organization.

According to Lindsey, the methods of dealing with conflict have changed.  He says that “for years management literature used two terms to describe conflict:  coping and resolution.  Both of these terms implied that you could live in a world without conflict. . . .  More recently a different perspective has evolved that suggests that we all have to cope with conflict and that we cannot always resolve it.” Catherine Edwards and Graham Walton concur and add that conflict management is an “expanded view where the costs, nature, sources and benefits of conflict are understood.”



Time and money are also very common costs of conflict.  Employee absenteeism due to conflict and time spent at work discussing and dealing with conflict all add up to less time spent on actual job duties.  Bruce Barnes, senior mediator at the University of Hawaii’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program, has participated in a large number of mediations involving faculty and staff at the University, some of them involving libraries.  According to Barnes, some long-term conflicts continued for years without resolution and brought about the filing of numerous grievances.

If conflict is not dealt with quickly and correctly, it can escalate in cost and severity.  David Lipsky, Ronald Seeber and Richard Fincher found that some organizations failed to adopt alternative dispute resolution strategies until a “precipitating event” motivated them to seek out new methods of conflict management.  Some companies faced multi-million dollar lawsuits, others, such as the United States Postal Service, suffered much more serious catastrophes.  The infamous shootings by USPS employees forced the organization to rethink the way it managed its postal workers.  Although not all conflicts result in such serious consequences, it is clear that conflict must be managed well or the organization will suffer.



Although conflict typically has negative connotations, experts recognize its many benefits.  Tracey, for instance, suggests that conflicts

ˇ        reveal and clarify important issues.

ˇ        offer opportunities for managers to learn more about themselves and their attitudes and behavior, explore the perceptions of others, and develop more productive and satisfying work relationships.

ˇ        help managers identify underlying problems, ameliorate or eliminate negative attitudes and feelings, correct misunderstandings, and generate the commitment for change.

ˇ        serve as a relief valve for dissatisfaction or strong negative feelings.

ˇ        actuate major changes, innovation, and creativity in finding solutions to problems.

Conflict is only beneficial if it is handled appropriately.  Lucile Wilson explains:  “How library managers handle conflict makes the difference between productive and destructive outcomes.  A supervisor’s attitude toward conflict resolution determines whether conflict is beneficial for an organization or group.”  Bryson offers a way for a supervisor to handle conflict.

In a major conflict situation, the cohesiveness of each department will increase, whilst communication between the conflicting departments will tend to decrease. . . .  It is advantageous that, with a major conflict involving departments, the issues are resolved quickly and in a way that each party gains or a win-win situation.  This can be achieved by setting a superordinate goal—that is, one which has to be achieved by the cooperation of both groups or by skilful negotiation.


William Fisher delineates conflict as emotional or nonemotional.  He explains that it is possible to look at and participate in conflicts without being personally and emotionally married to them.  In fact, conflict that is rational and does not involve personal feelings is useful.  As Fisher says, “Some nonemotional conflict… is essential for the health of an organization.  Nonemotional conflict means that differing ideas are being freely expressed.  Nonemotional conflict is a byproduct of an environment where communication channels are open and information moves freely.”

While conflict can be painful, Bryson says that it is unavoidable and it “serves as a catalyst for change, which in turn leads to the adaptation necessary for the survival of any living species, be it an organization or an individual.”




            As mentioned, conflict can be used to positively benefit an organization, but it can also harm it.  Kathman and Kathman list many costs of conflict.  For instance, they suggest that conflict causes “emotional and physical stress to employees, decrease in productivity and quality of work, poor job satisfaction and low morale, distorted communication, competitive attitudes rather than collective brainstorming/team work, and distrust.”



The sources of conflict in libraries are as varied as the individuals involved in them.  Joan Magretta explains part of the problem, “The whole person, without whom nothing would get done, often makes it hard to get anything done.  Caught in our own egos, we are forever getting in our own and one another’s way.” Disputes can arise from every aspect of the workplace, from personal issues such as gender or race to organizational changes such as merging departments or advancing technology.  The root of most conflict falls under one of four categories, internal or external change, departmentalization, miscommunication or interpersonal relations.

Internal and External Change

Libraries in the 21st century are undergoing tremendous change.  Internally they face a barrage of new technology that doesn’t seem to end.  Seasoned veterans who mastered the card catalog may resent new employees who are quicker to embrace the digital age.  Younger, entry-level librarians may resent being trained on new technology by older staff.  External changes, such as budget cuts made without the librarian’s input, may cause frustration or arguments about which services must be cut.  The Internet is a prime example of external change, causing conflict over filtering and access policies.


            Departmentalization is another aspect of librarianship that may spawn conflict.  Merging departments to save on costs could lead to problems involving staff relationships, questions of hierarchy and conflicting goals.  In one instance, a library department was divided into two separate entities, in part, in order to handle conflicts among the staff. Other aspects of departmentalization can be equally damaging.  Competition for limited resources such as space or equipment may lead to feelings of distrust or a violation of one’s territory.  Interdependency is another departmental issue.  If a librarian’s job duties involve tasks that depend on work done in another department, conflict can arise when work by one party is not done on time or is not done to the satisfaction of the second party.  In a large library with autonomous units, departments with different work goals may also face challenges.  Technical services staff may not have the same priorities as reference librarians or the circulation desk employees.  Departments providing different types of library services can also foster conflict by “(giving) rise to feelings that library staff that work behind the scenes at functional tasks are not as concerned about patrons’ needs as those who meet the public.”


In almost all cases of workplace conflict, miscommunication can be found at some level.  Communication barrier variables include “semantic difficulties, insufficient exchange of information, and noise in channels of communication.”  “Architectural barriers, physical distance between workplaces, schedules that separate people, and differences in training or subject background are some of the things that reduce communication in libraries.”  E-mails are misconstrued, directions from a supervisor are not clear or a new librarian’s place in the hierarchy may not be fully explained. 

Miscommunication can also bring about distorted perceptions of other things, such as job duties.  Managers who do not take the time to learn what their employees do may develop unrealistic goals.  For instance, expecting catalogers to quickly catch up on several years of backlog is an unrealistic goal and possibly the result of poor communication.  Words themselves can be a source of conflict if misunderstood.  Libraries are full of acronyms and jargon specific to the job.  According to Bryson, “The use of certain professional phrases may be threatening to administrators (or patrons) if they are uncertain of their meaning.”

Miscommunication and misunderstanding occur at all levels of an organization.  Multiple departments working on the same project but given different deadlines is an example of conflict brought about by miscommunication between department heads.  For example, reference librarians who communicate poorly regarding their work hours can cause conflict affecting both the reference staff and the patrons.  Invariably, where miscommunication leads to conflict, open communication can avert it.  Employees who communicate openly and freely within the workplace are engaging in conflict management at its most basic level.

Interpersonal Conflict

            The fourth cause of workplace conflict is interpersonal relations.  In some cases, interpersonal conflict is the seed that, left untreated, eventually develops into larger departmental and organizational conflicts.  Interpersonal conflict is the most common type of conflict found in libraries and has sometimes even resulted in violence. Gender issues, religious beliefs, racism and personality clashes are all causes of interpersonal conflict.  Conflicts of interest are also a source of workplace conflict, especially when job related.  An employee competing for a higher-level position may feel threatened by co-workers wanting the same job.  Fear of losing one’s job or losing control of a particular job duty can result in distrust or secretive behavior.  An atmosphere of caring may fuel a conflict if employees feel their co-workers are being personally or professionally attacked by other staff.  Personal feelings about an individual or a particular situation may cause employees to take sides.  In one example, individuals with conflicting personalities attempted to gain support from their own department co-workers, and in doing so,
severely strained the professional, working relations of two interdependent departments.

Many of the causes of conflict are interrelated.  A department merger leads to an internal change of job duties, which leads to miscommunication about role expectations, and inevitably it leads to some form of conflict. 




Once library managers understand the causes of conflict and how it can benefit or harm an organization, they must become aware of their role in effectively managing conflict in their libraries.  There are several approaches or styles that can be exercised to deal with conflict including power, accommodation, avoidance, compromise, collaboration, mediation, and prevention.


Power, also referred to as competition or forcing, is recognized as the use of power to overwhelm an adversary.  This approach to managing conflict creates a win-lose situation, with one party forcing submission on another.  The individual exerting power in this situation is displaying assertive yet uncooperative behavior.  The power approach to conflict management is seen as the worst method because it is creating an environment overrun with the ideal of survival-of-the-fittest, rather than creating a sense of solidarity.


Accommodation is a self-sacrificing approach to conflict.  One party, who exhibits unassertive yet co-operative behaviors, places his or her interest below those of his opponent.  Accommodation, being similar to appeasement, can cultivate a sense of frustration because ideas and opinions are not being expressed, respected, or valued. 


Avoidance is an unassertive and uncooperative approach to dealing with conflict.  Parties using this strategy ignore the conflict in hopes that it will magically disappear.  Withdrawal and suppression are methods of preventing any contact with the conflict.  This approach allows parties to avoid a win-lose struggle but can actually cause the conflict to fester and manifest itself in other arenas. 


Compromise allows participants to feel a sense of equality and unite for a common goal, which everyone must agree upon.  Each party to the conflict sacrifices something for the common gain, producing no winner or loser.  Equal amounts of assertive and cooperative behavior are exhibited in this form of conflict management. 


Collaboration can be viewed as a method of negotiation or problem solving.  All involved parties come together and discuss the issues amongst themselves, openly and honestly.  The focus shifts from the emotional battlefield to the nonemotional matter at hand.  Collaboration is the preferred method of conflict management because when implemented correctly, a win-win situation emerges.  Behaviors exhibited are assertive and cooperative, creating partnerships and an environment of solidarity and camaraderie.

Kathman and Kathman outline guidelines for effective problem solving.  First, the problem or issue must be clearly defined and everyone involved should share the same goals.  Individual participation and suggestions for alternative solutions are encouraged.  Criteria for evaluating alternatives must be established and alternatives are then evaluated based on those criteria.  Participants must come to a shared decision and implement and monitor the solution.


Mediation is a form of intervention where an intermediary is brought in to supervise the negotiations of the group.  This can be successful as long as all parties view the mediator as impartial and as someone they can trust.  However, mediation should result only when it is apparent that parties have tried and failed to collaborate on their own. 


Prevention of conflict should be a top priority for management.  “Conflict management should be more than damage control.”  The more preemptive steps taken, the more successful the outcome.  While conflict is inevitable, managers can have policies and procedures in place that detail how conflicts are dealt with in their library.  Pre-employment selection allows managers to find the best fit for the organization.  The better an employee fits into the organizational culture, the more likely conflict is to be resolved effectively.  Staff can be trained in conflict management strategies in an attempt to identify problems and appropriate measures to solve them.  Managers also must encourage staff participation in decision-making.

Communication is imperative in any organization and especially vital to successfully manage conflict.  When lines of communication are open, a level of trust develops.  “Conflict management demands openness of communication and trust levels that are quite high.  If there is no trust, establishing the quality of communication necessary to deal with the conflict will be nearly impossible.”  Communication facilitates the process of conflict management and resolution. 

Effective managers must be empathetic and have a desire to listen and communicate with their employees.  “Taking the time to listen and acknowledge the concern as legitimate for that individual, assures the person that their feelings have been considered and helps move them psychologically to the next stage of deciding what action is appropriate.  Invalidating an employee’s feeling through dismissive comments or even ill timed humor ensures that the person will resist all attempts at resolution.”



Summary of Scenario

            Case studies of actual library conflict are useful for understanding not only the source of conflict, but also the conflict management strategies used by the individuals involved in the situation.   Analyzing real life examples of conflict can help target the underlying problems and perhaps reveal strategies for preventing similar conflicts in the future. 

            Librarians Jack Montgomery and Eleanor Cook has done extensive research on conflict in libraries for  their new ALA Editions book entitled Managing Conflict In The Library: A Case Study Approach To Developing A Positive Working Environment and created scenarios based on real situations. One example in particular, The Internal Candidate (see Appendix A), is a classic example of workplace conflict.

            Caleb Billings, a librarian at a rural Public Library, has applied for an Associate Director position that has just opened up.  He is confident of his qualifications and feels certain the library director, Jack Williams, will hire him without question.  Jack instead hires newcomer Cassie Stiles.  He does not discuss his decision with Caleb, nor does he inform Cassie of the situation until she’s already on the job and sensing Caleb’s resentment.  Cassie attempts to discuss the situation with Caleb but he refuses to even be civil to her.  For the next five years, Caleb does everything in his power to make Cassie’s job difficult, affecting not only themselves, but also everyone working around them.   Jack’s attempt to remain neutral by avoiding the conflict entirely doesn’t help the situation and contributes to the weakening of the whole organization.  In the end, Cassie leaves to work at another library and Caleb is never promoted. 

Analysis of Case

Lack of communication is a prevailing problem among the three main players in this scenario.  Caleb and Jack, in particular, had opportunities to improve, or at least manage the situation, but didn’t take them.  For instance, in the beginning, Caleb knew that he and Jack thought about things differently, yet he didn’t talk to Jack to make sure that he knew what or who Jack was looking for in an Associate Director.  Furthermore, Cassie only learned that Caleb had been a candidate for her position after she was hired and began working.  Jack had not warned her of possible resentment and anger from Caleb.  Better communication could have prevented many years of struggle in that library.

To her credit, as a way to gain control of the conflict, Cassie tried to discuss the situation with Caleb.  She attempted to show empathy, but Caleb was not moved.  He didn’t want to discuss his anger, jealousy and resentment with her.  Even though Cassie was not responsible for the problem, Caleb blamed and punished her for taking his position.  He turned the situation into an interpersonal competition.  “They” had made a huge mistake and Cassie had “ruined his career.”  Cassie’s attempt at conflict management had failed.

Cassie seemed to give up after that.  She and Jack avoided (but didn’t manage) conflict and allowed Caleb to be insubordinate, sabotaging and disrespectful.  They avoided dealing with the situation long enough for Caleb to divide the employees into opposing camps.  This division and disruption prevented collaboration, teamwork, and productive communication. 

Sadly, because of the avoidance tactics employed by Jack and Cassie, the problem went on for many years and never was managed.  They were all miserable and Caleb never got the promotion he desired.  Better conflict management at an early stage could have improved the library, the relationships within it, and possibly could have improved Caleb’s future as a librarian.

Managing the Conflict

            As a manager, it was Jack’s duty to communicate effectively with his employees and to allocate resources effectively.  As part of preventing conflict in the library, Jack should have policies and procedures in place to manage conflict and staff should be trained in these management strategies.  The Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) offers a program aimed at library staff and managers, teaching them “how to improve productivity and build better workplace relationships” with employees, peers, supervisors, and library patrons.  Participants will come away from the seminar understanding specific conflict management tactics that can be implemented in their work environments. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) offers a three-week online course created in an effort to respond to the needs of library managers and staff, recognizing that an understanding of conflict allows managers (and others) to respond more effectively.  The course teaches participants an “understanding of conflict dynamic so that they may select and apply conflict management tools to constructively respond to workplace differences and disputes.”

For the conflict to have been prevented, it was each party’s responsibility to take the initiative and discuss their issues, rather than making assumptions.  Jack should have expressed the library’s goals in hiring a new director from outside the current staff, explaining his selection criteria for the position, and why Caleb isn’t right for the job.  Caleb should have approached Jack about the position, expressing his desire to apply, and inquiring about the desired qualifications.  During her interview, Cassie should have requested a tour and introductions to staff, so she would have an opportunity to get a feel for the organizational culture and whether she would be compatible.

Once the conflict was recognized and there was no turning back, Jack should have brought Cassie and Caleb together and collaborated to negotiate an outcome that benefits the library as a whole.  All parties would have been able to express their opinions openly and honestly, shifting from an emotional battleground back to the nonemotional matter of meeting the goals of the library.  It is possible that with some innovative thinking, Caleb could have been given new roles in his current position that would have improved his leadership skills and increased his benefit to the library.  If it was determined that Cassie and Caleb would not compromise or collaborate to reach a mutual agreement, Jack could have brought in a mediator to intervene, determining why communication isn’t working and facilitating a resolution.



            Magretta states: “Management’s business…is building organizations that work.” Although conflict isn’t easy to contend with, it is essential that managers know how to effectively manage it in order to have a functioning, healthy work environment.  Conflict can be beneficial to an organization if handled appropriately.  Open lines of communication and established policies are preventative measures that should be in every organization, including libraries.  Preventative measures don’t always eliminate the conflict, but they do establish an environment that is conducive to conflict management.  Managers with the right knowledge, information, and skills can turn almost any conflict into productive growth for the organization.

            Will you, as a librarian, encounter conflict?  Yes!  As a manager in a library?  Absolutely!  Whether you will be prepared for it is up to you.  “How library managers handle conflict makes the difference between productive and destructive outcomes.  A supervisor’s attitude toward conflict resolution determines whether conflict is beneficial for an organization or group.” In other words, the way you manage conflict will direct the future of your library.


The Nature of Conflict

Conflict resolution or conflict management? At a training session, a nationally known consultant from a mediation firm in Boulder, Colorado was asked what the difference was between conflict resolution and conflict management. The trainer replied that the distinction was one that only an academician could love. The distinction, however, is important both intellectually and psychologically, as the terms evoke different conceptions of the nature of conflict.  As conflict scholar Lulofs (1994) states, "the way we think about conflict has important implications for the way we act in situations where conflict exists" (p. 4). 

Conflict resolution implies that conflicts can be resolved--finished, completed, overcome, or permanently settled.  The label conflict management was intentionally chosen by communication scholars because the term evokes a process view of the choices and behaviors that come into play during conflicts.  Communication during conflict requires both choice and action--actions that may or may not solve the conflict permanently.  The term conflict management implies that conflict is not an "on" or "off" phenomenon.  Some conflicts are enduring and the best we can hope for is to manage the level and manifestation of conflict--to sustain a good working relationship free from negative behaviors or violence. 

Communication scholars generally agree that conflict: 

  • is a process
  • is inevitable
  • is a normal part of life

Continue through the rest of this section to read more about the nature of conflict.


 1) Characteristics of conflict: What it is and what it is not  

To review, conflict has the following characteristics:  

  • Interpersonal conflict requires at least two people. (Conflict within one’s self, or intrapersonal conflict, generally is studied by psychologists. Communication students and scholars are interested in communication between people.)
  • Conflict inherently involves some sense of struggle or incompatibility or perceived difference among values, goals, or desires.
  • Action, whether overt or covert, is key to interpersonal conflict. Until action or expression occurs, conflict is latent, lurking below the surface.
  • Power or attempts to influence inevitably occur within conflicts. If the parties really don't care about the outcome, the discussion probably doesn't rise to the level where we call it a conflict. When people argue without caring about what happens next or without a sense of involvement and struggle, it probably is just a disagreement.

Conflict also can be understood by examining what it is not:  

  • Conflict is not a breakdown in communication, but a process that is ongoing. The communication process is not like a car that can break or cease to function. Conflict entails communication about disagreements.
  • Conflict is not inherently good or bad. While people may tend to remember only the conflicts that were painful, conflict itself is a normal part of being human. Harmony is neither normal nor necessarily desirable as a permanent state of being. It is normal in relationships for differences to occur occasionally, just as it is normal in businesses for changes in goals and directions to occur. Conflict is normal.
  • Conflict is not automatically resolved by communication. Managing conflicts productively is a skill.

2) Destructive and Constructive Conflict  

In 1969, Deutsch created a view of conflict that remains a usable framework today. Deutsch claimed that the negative or positive nature of conflict really is determined by people's behaviors; it is not an inherent quality of conflict itself. Some behaviors produce dysfunctional, destructive and unproductive responses; other behaviors produce functional, constructive and productive responses.  

Destructive conflict. Behaviors that escalate a conflict until it seems to have a life of its own are dysfunctional and destructive. Destructive conflicts may degenerate sufficiently so the conflict parties forget the substantive issues and transform their purposes to getting even, retaliating or hurting the other person.  In destructive conflict, no one is satisfied with the outcome, possible gains are not realized and the negative taste left over at the end of one conflict episode is carried over to the beginning of the next conflict--creating a degenerating or negative spiral. Destructive conflicts are more likely to occur when behaviors come from rigid, competitive systems.  

Constructive conflict. Behaviors that are adaptive to the situation, person and issues of the moment are functional and constructive. Many conflicts are a mixture of competitive and cooperative impulses.  Constructive conflicts appropriately balance the interests of both parties to maximize the opportunities for mutual gains. Constructive conflicts contain an element of creative adaptation born from a realization that one must know both one's own and the other's interests and goals to be able to find a road both parties are willing to walk to discover a mutually acceptable outcome. Focusing on the process, not just the outcome one person desires, is key to productive conflict management.

3) Competitive and Cooperative Conflict  

In the 1990's, scholars and practitioners identified two approaches or worldviews regarding conflict: competitive and cooperative.  

Competitive conflict systems (sometimes also termed positional, distributive, win/lose, or adversarial) are grounded in a win/lose perspective--for one party to "win" the other party must "lose."  Competitive systems often assume a zero-sum or fixed-pie view of all resources.  

Cooperative conflict systems (sometimes also termed mutual gains, interest-based, and win/win) are grounded in a win/win or positive mutual outcome perspective--for one party to win the other party's needs and goals must also be considered, with the net result that both parties maximize their outcomes.  Cooperative systems often assume that resources can be expanded or traded in creative ways.  Instead of the other party being the opponent, the problem or issue becomes the opponent that both parties must join in defeating.  

The chart below compares the elements of competitive and cooperative conflict.   


Competitive Conflict 

Cooperative Conflict 


  • Both win (something)
  • Relationship is maintained
  • Agreement longevity is likely


  • Negotiate in good faith
  • Use BATNA
  • Search for interests, share information
  • Search for creative solutions
  • Change perceptions
  • Build the best possible outcome for both parties 


  • Winning now is most important
  • Short-term thinking
  • Zero-sum world
  • Other is the opponent
  • My solution is best 
  • Maintaining relationship and substantive outcome are most important
  • Non-zero-sum
  • The issue is the opponent
  • Many possible solutions 

Bargaining Base 


At its worst:

  • Dominating
  • Manipulative
  • Aggressive
  • Argumentative
  • Hostile
  • Egotistical
  • Rigid
  • Intolerant
  • Threatening
  • Disinterested in fairness 

At its best:

  • Trustworthy
  • Realistic
  • Courteous
  • Personable
  • Tactful
  • Objective
  • Flexible
  • Logical
  • Sincere
  • Patient
  • Forgiving
  • Self-controlled
  • Interested in fairness 


Competitive Bargaining 

Cooperative Bargaining 

Critical Vocabulary 



4) Mutual Gains Negotiation

While some theorists consider bargaining or negotiation a different area of study from interpersonal conflict management, negotiation--the give and take involved in making decisions--is a part of everyday conflict and is, thus, considered here as part of the conflict management process.  For example, when friends have oppositional goals and desires on what movie to see, negotiation occurs. One of the most popular modern perspectives, the mutual gains approach, was developed by Roger Fisher and the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Mutual gains negotiation theorists recommend four key ideas to guide behavior during a conflict.

1.        Focus on the substance of the problem while keeping an eye on the relationship.
(Roger Fisher’s philosophy is to be:  "Hard on the problem; soft on the people")
- analyze the problem from the other’s point of view
- avoid defining the substantive problem as a people problem
- deal with emotions and people problems first
- negotiate how to negotiate

2.        Separate interests (needs) from positions (demands or wants)
- look for the need underlying the position
- elicit and give information

3.        Develop options where both can profit
- refuse to accept the easy solution
- examine solutions to ensure an idea really can be implemented
- put more than one item on the table at a time so trades can be made
- give up items which are of little interest to you but valuable to the other person

4.        Evaluate many possible solutions


Organizational Behavior