Managing Conflict; Keeping the Peace in the Boardroom

Lisa Mathewson's picture
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Albert Einstein’s undeniable words of wisdom ring true, even in the boardroom, “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”

Conflict in a professional relationship or within a team is typically the result of miscommunication, personality differences, or differing perceptions and ideas. A board made up of individuals with diverse viewpoints and varying strengths is valuable, and the conflicts that result are an opportunity for growth and positive change – if it’s managed effectively. On the flip side, arguing over opposing positions can be ineffective and often destructive.

How do you work past the chasm of dissension and reach the land of growth and opportunity? Take Einstein’s philosophy to heart and seek to understand before seeking to be understood:

  • Observe and get to know each board member’s personality, strengths, weaknesses, fears and ambitions. Be aware of varying communication styles.
  • Acknowledge that there is a conflict. Allowing disputes to fester will amplify the situation and potentially lead to other problems.
  • When a disagreement arises, listen to the other party. Allow them to state their feelings and opinions. Practice active listening by truly trying to understand their position and ask questions in order to comprehend the “why” behind their position. Don’t interrupt, wait until they are finished talking before you state your feelings and opinions.
  • Calm your emotions before speaking. Rather than fueling a heated argument, state your thoughts and opinions in a calm voice and also make it clear that you heard and understand their side.
  • Focus on the problem, not your position.
  • Don’t view the situation as a competition, with a winner and a loser. Rather, work toward a solution where both parties can have some of their needs met.
  • Remember that while your opinion and position may differ from another’s, you likely have interests, values or beliefs in common. Identifying and concentrating on these commonalities can lead to collaboration in identifying a solution.

Understanding others and resolving conflict takes patience, but taking the time to work through controversy rather than forcing a short-term solution promotes harmony and has the potential to flush out fresh ideas that will propel your board to a higher level of success.


Lisa joined IAAP in February 2012 as Governance Specialist. In this role, Lisa works closely with the CEO of the association, providing assistance and serving as staff liaison to the IAAP Board of Directors and The Foundation of IAAP Board of Regents. 

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