Results Through Leadership:



Whether working in an organization of 10 or 10,000, most of us have encountered environments that do little to minimize the impact of poorly managed conflict, often resulting in poor morale and lost productivity. How is it possible to create organizational cultures that promote collaboration instead of destructive conflict?


In his blog for the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program, Dan Adams offers us some principles that ‘support effective conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving’. It’s easy to agree that applying the four principles – 1) Offer validation and Respect, 2) Be vulnerable and authentic, 3) Be proactive instead of Reactive and 4) Ensure participation and engagement vertically and horizontally – will help. But why and how do these measures work and are they enough? And how can we actually get people to behave this way?


The Importance of Organizational Culture

In my book, The Power of Difference; From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps, I’ve spelled out a specific approach and set of skills that help organizations to create cultures in which everyone is enabled to resolve differences constructively. Several broad elements of organizational culture not only create the conditions for collaboration but also contribute to the success of the enterprise. As discussed in chapter 4 (titled The Power of Purpose: Creating a Culture of Alignment), these include:


  1. Clarity about and alignment with the overarching purpose, or mission, of the organization. This provides the ‘glue’ that holds everyone together and allows them to make short term sacrifices for the good of the longer, broader goal
  2. An environment in which individuals are valued for their talents and are encouraged to challenge themselves, making mistakes an acceptable part of learning and development, i.e. a ‘no fear’ policy
  3. People are frequently asked for input and are made to feel respected and validated, not belittled or irrelevant
  4. Collaborative behavior – the ability to think broadly, listen to others and solve problems collectively – is rewarded, as opposed to competitive, overpowering behavior meant to dominate others


It’s easy to ask people to be vulnerable and authentic, respectful and validating, but if the environment they’re in neither encourages or rewards those behaviors, it’s unlikely that anything will change. That’s why creating the right culture is so important.







There’s Science To Back It Up

Fortunately, this is not just speculation or opinion. There is good social and biological science that give these ideas more heft.

  1. Studies of human motivation have consistently found that there are universal needs that we humans share and are motivated to fulfill. Understanding these needs in the context of organizational life gives us many clues about why we behave the way we do. Knowing this is especially helpful when trying to resolve differences in constructive ways as we can use this information to identify and satisfy everyone’s interests.


  1. Neuroscience is helping us to understand what goes on in our brains, especially when our emotions are aroused or we are experiencing a sense of being unsafe. In general, fear and other strongly felt emotions get in the way of the ability to employ the rational problem solving skills needed to resolve complex differences. It turns out that being listened to respectfully, having our ideas acknowledged and our feelings validated leads to decreased levels of emotional arousal, helping us to be better problem solvers


We are capable of resolving our differences and making our organizations successful, productive and pleasant places to be. We just need to apply what we know about ourselves and about organizations in general.


Read more about how to create real change in The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps, available from




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