Do Male & Female Managers Handle Conflict Differently?

by Helen Trencher - Updated September 26, 2017
Gender differences influence the conflict handling styles of managers.

Conflict in the workplace — the clash of differing ideas, values, goals or needs — is an inevitable byproduct whenever individuals or groups work together. If properly managed, conflict can lead to better quality results. To a degree, there is a discernable difference between the conflict handling styles of male and female managers.

Relational and Competitive Styles

The gender differences in conflict management stem, in part, from the gender-based tendencies that take root as a child. Females reflect a “relational” style of interaction, which includes expressing perceptions and feelings, connecting and providing a greater quantity of polite speech, requests and level of detail. This communication is more vague and apologetic. Males reflect a more “competitive” interaction style to resolve problems. This includes increased interruptions and swearing and the providing of more succinct information with less emotional content.

Handling Arguments

The manner in which male and female managers handle and react to arguments can impact whether and how workplace conflicts can be resolved amicably. Women have a need to have their feelings validated, and men respond better to approval than disapproval. Male and female managers reflect — ether knowingly or unknowingly — this important difference in how they communicate among each other and how they manage their subordinates. Being aware of the needs of those with whom they communicate, and meeting those needs in a professional yet caring manner, can go a long way to resolving or even avoiding arguments.

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Influence of the Power Position

While gender does seem to affect how managers handle conflict, the power position also influences the direction of negotiations. Those in a higher position of power, whether they are men or women, are more competitive and expect more control and greater cooperation. Perhaps the perceived differences in gender when managing conflict stems more from the inequalities of status and power: in the United States, more men are in positions of power than women.

Perceived Effectiveness of Gender Roles

Culture also influences the stereotypical perceptions of how effectively women and men handle workplace conflict: Male managers are deemed more effective if they use a more dominating style, while female managers are considered more effective if they apply a more obliging style. However, male and female managers who effectively apply the best characteristics of both genders — a more androgynous style of handling conflict — might be better suited to managing the complexities of a 21st century workplace.

About the Author

Helen Trencher has been writing professionally since 1991, including instructional materials, business proposals, college seminars and workshop guides. In 2000 she published an article on the health benefits of drumming for "Colorado Mature Lifestyles." Trencher holds a Bachelor of Arts in education from Lehman College and a Master of Science in education from Fordham University.

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