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PT Notes

Leadership Skills for PHA Facilitators - Managing Conflict

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It is common for disagreements and arguments to occur during the performance of PHA studies. Often conflict is viewed as being bad and something to be avoided. However, conflict is normal and inevitable because PHA team members have different perspectives and view issues differently. Conflict can range from mild disagreement to angry exchanges. Healthy conflict is actually a good sign in a dynamic team. Indeed, lack of conflict may indicate a problem. It may be indicative of apathy, lack of interest, boredom, unwillingness to share views, low self-esteem of team members, or a domineering leader.

Often PHA teams do not handle conflict well. They may ignore or avoid it. Unaddressed conflict produces negative consequences such as escalation, resentment, lack of cooperation, and the generation of skeletons in the closet that come back to haunt the team. Whenever conflict arises, it needs to be addressed promptly.

A certain amount of conflict is beneficial as it encourages the exploration of different views and ideas and motivates people to understand issues better. However, a large amount of conflict is disruptive as it creates negative emotions and stress, interferes with communication, and diverts attention from the task. Sources of conflict can be healthy or unhealthy.

Healthy sources include:

  • Legitimate differences of opinion
  • Differences in values and perspectives
  • Differing beliefs about the motives and actions of others

Unhealthy sources may involve organizational, social, or personal issues.

Organizational issues include:

  • Competition over power, rewards, and resources
  • Ambiguity over responsibilities
  • Status differences among team members
  • Conflict between individual and team goals

Social issues include:

  • Poorly run meetings
  • Personality differences
  • Misinterpretation of other people’s behavior
  • Personal grudges from the past
  • Faulty communication

Personal issues include:

  • Hidden agendas

Healthy conflict explores issues more fully and produces better decisions. Unhealthy conflict may be a symptom of a hidden problem. Productive conflict is about issues, ideas, and tasks. Typically, it is resolved in a cooperative manner. Unproductive conflict is about emotions and personalities. Typically, it is resolved by one party trying to dominate the other.

PHA team members can learn from one another in resolving their differences if conflict is managed properly. Usually, participants in conflict emphasize the process rather than the end result, which is a key insight that can be put to use by facilitators. The root cause of conflict must be found to avoid wasting time dealing with symptoms.

Five approaches are used for conflict resolution:


The issue is simply ignored, or there is denial that a problem exists in the hope that it will go away. This approach creates winners and losers and makes decisions difficult to implement as the issue can arise again later on.


People may give up their position to be agreeable. This approach costs the team the value of people’s opinions and ideas. It also creates winners and losers and makes decisions difficult to implement as the issue can arise again later on.


People may act aggressively and try to win an argument. However, winning can become more important than making a good decision. This approach also creates winners and losers and makes decisions difficult to implement as the issue can arise again later on.


The goals of each person are balanced by each person yielding a little. The approach promotes equity and fairness. However, it does not result in optimal decisions because they are not sought.


People search for a solution that satisfies everyone. The approach requires cooperation and respect and may be time consuming and difficult, but everyone wins. Collaborative decision making encourages creativity, improves relationships among team members, and leads to greater commitment to decisions.

A number of factors influence the choice of approach for the resolution of conflicts, including personalities, social relationships, the time available, and the particular issue. PHA facilitators should be ready with a strategy for managing conflict. It should address prevention, preparation, and conflict resolution.

Prevention can be addressed by establishing rules of the road, that is, guidelines for behavior by team members, and ground rules for how PHA will be conducted. Preparation can be addressed by creating an environment that encourages mutual respect and courtesy, open communication, and constructive debate. A climate should be created in which people feel safe to raise issues and voice disagreements. A sense of trust must be built between team members. It is important to allow PHA team members to become acquainted with each other before embarking on a study to allow this process to begin.

In addressing the resolution of conflict, PHA facilitators must know when to intervene. It should neither be too soon nor too late. If it is too soon, the expression of opinions will be nipped in the bud; if it is too late, people will have dug in their heels. Facilitators should control communications between parties, while allowing the brainstorming that is essential in PHA studies. Attention should be focused on the issue of interest rather than positions taken by people. Facilitators should look for small areas of agreement and use them to build trust and rapport and demonstrate common ground. Resolutions can be suggested, without putting words into the mouths of participants, to try and create win-win solutions.

Conflict is natural during the performance of PHA studies. It must be managed to ensure effective studies are performed.

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