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.
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.
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.