Leadership and managing conflict in meetings

Janet Holmes and Meredith Marra


There is extensive literature describing the characteristics of a good leader in the area of organisational communication and business management. However, the research tends to be based on secondary, survey or reported data, typically interviews and questionnaires. Moreover, the predominant image of a “good” leader tends to be a charismatic, inspirational, decisive, authoritative, ‘hero’. The Language in the Workplace database provides a large corpus of authentic spoken interaction which allows examination of how effective leaders behave in a wide range of face-to-face interactions at work, and identifies a diverse range of leadership styles. The analysis reveals that effective leaders select from a range of strategies available to challenge, contest or disagree with others, paying careful attention to complex contextual factors, including the type of interaction, the kind of community of practice or workplace culture in which they are operating, and the relative seriousness of the issue involved. The analysis identifies four distinct strategies which leaders use to deal with potential conflict. These strategies lie along a continuum from least to most confrontational: Conflict avoidance; diversion; resolution through negotiation; and resolution by authority. The findings suggest that good leaders “manage” conflict: i.e. they choose strategies which address both their transactional and relational goals in order to achieve a desirable outcome.

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