Business Conflict: Understanding that There is Not Just one Type By Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Conflict is natural in business.  According to Brāv Online Conflict Management (, each year, companies lose billions of dollars to easily manageable conflict.  The reason that companies fail to manage this conflict is because of the stigma that surrounds conflict. 

Many offices do not want to admit that they have a conflict problem, which in turn means that they "deal" with the conflict by ignoring it, rather than taking simple steps to deal with the conflict.  This refusal to take notice costs businesses billions each year, can your business afford to be one of the companies losing this money?

Identify the Problem

One of the first steps in managing any problem is identifying what the problem is.  One of the main complications of conflict management in business is that there are three types of business conflict, each of which requires a different kind of solution. 

When companies attempt to deal with conflict in a "one size fits all" system, the system tends to fail. This reality means that a company has to be aware of the different types of conflict, which are:

1.) Environmental Conflict

2.) Intrapersonal Conflict

3.) Interpersonal Conflict

Each of these forms of conflict requires a specific methodology to manage, and in understanding the methodologies that you can use to manage the conflict, you can save some of that money that others are leaving on the table. 

Environmental Conflict

Environmental conflict is any conflict that occurs between the organization and another entity.  Common occurrences in this area are regulatory conflict, community conflict, financial conflict, and even conflict with the natural environment. 

In these types of cases, Mr. Tomas Brister, Owner of Brister Land Services in Baton Rouge Louisiana, states "most environmental conflicts in a business are seen as a detriment, but the businesses that succeed look at these conflicts as opportunities to evolve. 

The most successful companies then use this evolution as a roadmap for new products, services, or industrial lines to provide to their clients." Most of the time, if you are facing an environmental conflict within your business, others are facing/have faced it too.  This means that either you can look at how others solved the problem, thus avoiding the redundancy of "reinventing the wheel" or, if no one has solved the problem, you can market your solution as a revenue stream for your company.

Intrapersonal Conflict 

Intrapersonal conflict is one of the more difficult types of conflict for companies to manage.  In an intrapersonal conflict, the person has an internal conflict. This means that there may not be any outward signs of the conflict until this is too late. 

According to Dr. Remi Alli, Owner of Brāv Online Conflict Management, "As more and more companies see the work-life integration of employees as beneficial; they are being tasked with addressing more of the problems that employees bring with them from home. 

Many of these are internal and unable to be seen. Successful companies take the time to provide "destressing" stations for employees, which allows for a mitigation of the stress that this conflict causes." While employers cannot "force" employees to deal with intrapersonal conflicts, they can provide them the tools they need to deal with these conflicts, which in turn can prevent them from causing disputes within the workplace.

Interpersonal Conflict

The most visible type of conflict is interpersonal conflict.  According to Dr. Justin Wood of Phlox ADR, “Interpersonal conflict can be a conflict between employees and customers, employees and management or within employee teams themselves."

These are the types of conflicts that require a conflict management specialist to manage to ensure that they do not create disputes within the company.  The Public relations office is often the specialist that deals with the conflict between employees and customers. Human resources usually resolve conflicts between employees and management, and conflicts between employees on teams are often resolved by management.

However, are these the correct people to manage the conflicts. Successful companies often bring in outside neutrals to ensure that there is no bias in how a conflict is settled, these are the companies that are saving money each year by dealing with their conflict in a manageable way.

The Financial Impact of Conflict

If you are involved in a business, you know that there is conflict at your place of work.  The question is, "do you deal with it healthily." If your company pretends that it does not exist, it costs you money.  You may not see it, but your accountant does.

To save thousands (or millions) of dollars each year, every company should have a conflict consultant come in and look at the conflict that is present in the workplace.  These professionals can identify, compartmentalize, and suggest management solutions for almost any type of conflict.

When you look at the return on investment of a conflict management specialist, it almost becomes malpractice not to bring someone in to do a conflict analysis.  If you do not want your company to be one of the companies that are losing billions of dollars each year, take the time to look into a conflict analysis- otherwise, you are just burying your head in the sand while your money walks away.

Author Bio

Dr. Smithmyer has appeared in publications such as Forbes, Harvard Business Review, U.S. News and World Report along with bylines in publications such as The Hill, The Morning Consult, the Best Company and the New Right Network.  Dr. Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs at Brāv Online Conflict Management, an international conflict management consortium. 

In this capacity, Dr. Smithmyer is the liaison between domestic operations and the individual Brāv Ambassadors around the globe. Dr. Smithmyer also teaches as an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania State University (World Campus) and the University of South Florida (St. Petersburgh) Kate Tillman College of Business. 

His current research looks into the development of conflict-related to the confluence of socioeconomic change, specifically in the international business and macro-economic context. For information in arranging training or speaking engagements, please contact


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