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Collaboration vs. Power: Conflict Struggle



It’s a natural tendency for any person to want to have power or control in their lives.  This doesn’t stop with us in our roles in the work environment. I believe our own awareness of our lack of control is a major contributor to ones success or failures.  This type of feeling only adds additional stressors in our lives, but also affects the people around us.  If this is in a work situation, conflicts will arise and cause growth to be stagnant inside the organization as a whole. As a team, divisional or regional level, it’s like a cancer that spreads rapidly and causes death inside the company.  I truly believe that this power hunger in an individual is the root cause many times and brings conflict in and around them that hinders anything they’re attempting to accomplish. Does this truly amount to most conflict situations?  I would say yes and see this as a persons’ underlying agenda that stems from their need to influence through power or direct people’s behavior or the course of events that surround a situation (Barbar, 2012, p. 1).  Again, the entire conflict in organizations may be slowed if we took the mindset of collaborator, instead of power hungry, a multiplier instead of a diminisher. To achieve success in our organization, or any other for that matter, collaboration instead of control is the prime ingredient that will solve many internal conflicts.

Analysis Overview

If we first evaluate the underlying definition of the person that uses collaboration as his/her primary tool for employee engagement, and ultimately a reduction of conflict, we will gain a better understanding of what it is to deal with this type of conflict struggle. “Collaboration is working with someone to produce or create something (Barbar, 2012, para. 8).” It’s much better to always think about putting the spot light on your team or another individual instead of yourself. This will really limit the “control” mindset.  As a manager or leader, it’s so much better to think in regards to collaboration than control (Barbar, 2012, para. 9). It’s imperative for leaders to understand the impact they have on others and to get everyone involved to the maximum effort each person has to offer.  This again is best done by engaging them in ways that optimize their collective knowledge and uses the talents each bring to the table.  In contrast, leaders that control every part of a project, or put the attention on themselves instead of their team, will drive conflict over and over.  Their role is to stimulate results for the company, not hinder those results due to conflict and the “diminisher” approach to management (Wizeman, para. 4).  In one study, the primary causes of workplace conflict arise based on personality or egos at 44%, followed by stress at 34% and heavy workloads at 33%.  I would argue the leader that optimizes the collective knowledge in his/her team and uses collaboration, as the primary tools to drive the team forward will significantly reduce conflict before it ever arises (Hayes, p. 3).  Why is this important?  The average employee will spend an average of 2.1 hours per week to deal with conflict. This translates to 385 million working days each year spent dealing with conflict.  Imagine those days wasted and how that would translate to productive days.  How much of an economic boast would that make on the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)?

An additional part of the conflict process is based on how effectively conflict is identified and if it’s addressed in a timely manner. In the context of when conflict is not addressed in a timely manner, emotional turmoil will arise and each individual involved or surrounding the situation will suffer. Understanding the impact is much more difficult, however no less serious and something that can’t be taken lightly.  This impact will be particularly seen with staff engagement levels, which translates to productivity. The manager or leader is responsible for engaging his/her team and for using collaboration techniques as the core-underlying mission. When this type of leader is just the opposite and is power hungry, conflict will certainly arise, which will reduce cooperation and the sense of “team” when it’s consistent and poorly handled (Hayes, p. 6).

Conflict Resolution Recommendation

Based on our problem statement, it’s my hypothesis that our driving, underlying reason we have conflict in the workplace is based on power hungry individuals that diminish their staff.  This leads to poor employee engagement and conflict surely arises. 

With this in mind, what if it’s as simple as this.  What if we all harnessed our collective knowledge and invested a few minutes per week to help someone else? How can this be done from a leader or manager’s perspective?  We need to understand that multiplying the knowledge and ability in your team will translate to employee buy in, engagement, and reduce conflict before it starts. Each leader should have a mission mindset. Have you considered how your actions could magnify the collective knowledge in everyone you interact with (Wizeman, para. 4)? How much more successful would your peers become? In an attempt to look at this simple, but often missed opportunity, we will look at two core traits of an effective leader. One individual can’t change culture. It takes like-minded teamwork and desire to set a new path for our future generation!

Every person needs to evaluate if they are power hungry and diminish the abilities of their peers? In contrast, do you as a leader seek opportunities to magnify the talents, the ideas, and the collective knowledge at your disposal? Studies have shown that employee engagement is the driving force for employee retention. Having employees that feel needed, and feel challenged, gives them a purpose. There has been countless examples of how employee retention isn't based on salary, but instead how engaged that employee feels. This all translates to each person’s desire to be engaged in their job, which in turn translates to limited amounts of conflict. A busy engaged employee has no time starting conflict. Surveys have shown that people would rather stay at a job that they’re engaged in, than move to a company that pays them more, but diminishes their abilities. We need new challenges and the feeling that we're contributing to our profession.

Lastly, conflict is a part of every person’s life, whether that’s his/her job, personal life or just during our everyday dealing with others.  Can conflict be positive?  Can conflict lead to growth? I bring this idea up because there are many studies that show that conflict, if dealt with properly, can lead to tremendous growth within the individual, as well as the organization as a whole. One such study shows very significant and positive response by surveyed employees. The survey looked at two different groups. Group one reported that their organization supported innovation through conflict, collaboration and buy in from their employees. Group two stated their organization focused on the status quo and only implemented small changes based on ideas and employee engagement (Ward, 2012, para. 6). 

Group 1 results showed that the employees were nine times more likely to report that decision making processes were clear and tailored to the issues. That was a 90% increase over group 2 respondents (Ward, 2012, para. 6). They were four times more likely to report that leaders frequently or always took action to resolve conflict, and five times more likely to report that heated conflict, if it arises, is embraced as a necessary part of change (Ward, 2012, para. 6).


Final Summary

Magnifying the collective knowledge in others is a concept that every great leader encompasses. These leaders will drive an organization and the people they manage to the next level. The type of person that fosters the best in everyone they interact with? They didn't want the focus on them, but instead wanted to magnify each person’s talents and use those talents for the good of the group. Great leaders understand that success isn't measured by one individual, but by how the company as a whole is perceived. By investing in each person and allowing them to shine, they foster engagement and challenge their people to think and show their creative abilities. This fosters an excitement in those people, which builds their confidence and allows them growth. The great thing about this approach is that it strengthens everyone and everything including the organization.  As such, conflict will not arise and if it does the employees involved will better process this and make it into impactful discussions instead of a lack of production and lost days.  As we stated above, 385 million days each year are lost to unproductive workdays directly related to conflict. Let's stop diminishing the abilities of our peers, and instead magnify their ability to gain more opportunity, more engagement and change the culture in your organization.

Thanks for reading!


Eric Bauer, MBA, FP-C, CC-C, C-NPT





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