How to Resolve Conflicts, Part 1

How to Resolve Conflicts, Part 1

By Bob Sproull

How to “evaporate” conflicts

Author Adam S. McHugh recently wrote, “When introverts are in conflict with each may require a map in order to follow all the silences, non-verbal cues, and passive-aggressive behaviors.” Conflicts are inevitable in life and part of our everyday work-life in manufacturing. We've all seen situations where people with the same objective and desires have clashed, and we've all witnessed the intense personal hostility that can result. But does it have to be this way?  I happen to agree with Mr. McHugh in that often, it does require a map, of sorts, to resolve our conflicts. In today’s post, we will begin a series on conflicts and how best to resolve them with a tool known as the “Evaporating Cloud.

What type of conflict are we dealing with?

With every problem, there are conflicts that seem to get in the way of our ideas on how best to solve a problem.  There are basically three primary types of conflict that we must identify and deal with as we work to resolve problems. The first type occurs when force is pulling us to do one thing, but an equal and opposite force pulls in the opposite direction. The second type of conflict is one in which we are forced to choose between different alternatives. The third type is what I refer to as the hidden agenda conflict. In this kind of conflict, there is generally a strong-willed personality involved who has a desire or inherent need to hold onto some kind of power.

Methods of resolving conflicts

In attempting to resolve conflicts, there are three types of resolutions that can be reached:

  1. Win-win
  2. Win-lose
  3. Compromise

We should always attempt to achieve a win-win solution, but sometimes it just isn’t practical or even possible. In a win-lose situation, one side typically gets just about everything it wanted, while the other side gets very little. This type of solution serves to create antagonistic or hostile attitudes. The “winner’s” odds of sustained success are diminished because the losing side might attempt to sabotage the solution—not openly, but covertly or stealthily.

A compromise solution generally ends up being sub-optimized, because we are attempting what can be a near impossible feat. That is, to satisfy most of the requirements of both parties engaged in the conflict. Having said this, a compromise is still better than a win-lose or imposed solution. However, compromise generally results in a sub-optimized solution.

The solution for a hidden agenda conflict is much like what happens in a win-lose conflict, in that one party works covertly against the other, in hopes of holding on to power. So can we avoid all of these caveats and reliably find the best resolutions to conflicts?

A final tease for the next installment in this series

Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt1 introduced us to a thinking process tool that he appropriately named the “Evaporating Cloud.” This tool, otherwise known as the Conflict Resolution Diagram (CRD) identifies and demonstrates the relationship between the key elements of a conflict and then suggests ways to resolve it. 

Note: For a detailed description of how to create and use a CRD, read William Dettmer’s Breaking the Constraints to World Class Performance.2

Next Time

In my next post, I will detail how to construct the Evaporating Cloud and begin explaining how to use it to efficiently and reliably resolve conflicts. As always, if you have any questions or comments about any of my posts, leave me a message and I will respond.


Until next time.

Bob Sproull


1 Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal, Great Barrington, Mass.: North River Press, 1986

2 H. William Dettmer, Breaking the Constraints to World Class Performance, American Society 

     for Quality, 1998

Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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