Control and Conflict……Are They Mutually Exclusive?

 “All men have an instinct for conflict: at least all healthy men”

    Hilaire Belloc

Conflict and confrontation, they are a given in many workplaces and can vary between simple misunderstandings to festering personal grudges and quite blatant verbal attacks.

Conflict is in fact a normal and very essential part of any organisation. Given the range of diversity, change, competition and team based approaches in our workplaces, is it any wonder that conflict is going to be inevitable. When you ask people with differing approaches, backgrounds and personalities to work together, there are bound to be disagreements. Often however this accepted fact is dreaded by many managers and leaders instead of embraced as a normal and sometimes needed aspect of a healthy workplace culture. But conflict can be the lifeblood of vibrant, progressive organisations. Conflict stimulates innovation and encourages personal growth.

Many individuals dislike conflict, but often this has evolved for the individual because the conflict has been left to fester, has been left unmanaged and can go on for a significant period of time. The goal for any organisation (and for any individual for that matter), should therefore be to embrace conflict as a normal part of growth and progress but recognise that if left unmanaged it can be a constant and energy sapping source of focus that takes away from other key tasks and priorities.

Control is in fact a key element in our ability to manage conflict successfully and is one of the 4Cs of Mental Toughness (alongside Commitment, Challenge and Confidence). Mental Toughness is the quality which determines in large part how people effectively deal with challenge, stressors and pressure… irrespective of the prevailing circumstances (Clough and Strycharczyk 2012). Control is our capacity to believe that we can control our own destiny. The more we feel that we can shape and influence what is happening around us, the more likely we are to feel that we can make a difference and achieve our goals. If we believe we can take Control and manage a conflict more successfully, perhaps we can look toward a healthier resolution.

We certainly recognise that the less we feel in control, the more likely we are to feel stressed which can lead to negative consequences for our health and negative consequences in our relationships.

We can exercise Control in a conflict situation by:

·        clearly understanding the source of the conflict,

·        managing our style and

·        raising self-awareness through questioning.


1)   A significant opportunity to gain control within a conflict situation is to understand the source of the conflict. Nearly all conflict in the workplace arises from 6 key areas: communication, change, values/beliefs/rules, attaching meanings and competition. Of these, communication is perhaps one of the biggest sources of conflict and one of the most easily recognisable. In fact, probably 85% of conflict arises from this one area and can result from lack of communication or too much communication, inadequate or missing communication, the wrong type of communication, the wrong timing of communication etc etc.


2)   Many of us can demonstrate behavioural flexibility, but a conversation where we stick to our preferred style can become a source of conflict. We have an opportunity to consider individual differences and manage our style. People have different values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Are we aware of the drivers behind our own behaviour and seek to manage our behavioural responses effectively? Do we take the opportunity to Control our responses?


3)   If we undertake some self-analysis and complete some honest assessment, we can seek significant understanding and clarity. We can take Control.                                                          

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

·        What is my purpose?

·        What is the outcome I am really trying to achieve?

·        How resourceful am I being?

·        What am I making this mean?

·        What assumptions have I made?

·        What is the truth?

·        What have I made the truth?

·        What is the other person’s model of the world?

·        How does this model match or conflict with my values, beliefs or rules?

·        What accountability /responsibility do I need to take?

·        How do I want to be?

·        What steps or actions will I take right now to move forward?


We all have the capacity to take more Control in a conflict situation to allow for a more positive result from work place interactions. Our self-belief, management of emotions and behaviour and self-reflection can result in conflicts being resolved in significantly shorter timeframes and results in a culture reflective of growth.


Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited mental toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their mental toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or