The bases of the pinch theory of conflict management is that conflict can be predicted and reduced. Unresolved conflict affects production, lowers performance, and fosters resentment. When expectations between people are not met, this creates a pinch or a breakdown in the existing relationship. Pinches are inevitable, but can be reduced, managed, and avoided. The pinch theory of conflict management begins with:

  • Sharing expectations reduces pinches
  • Understanding others’ personalities minimizes pinches
  • Discussing pinches as soon as they occur avoids escalation and reduces stress

Unresolved pinches, which fester, often leading to a CRUNCH – defined as an intolerable pinch(es).

The Pinch Theory Of Conflict Management

Introduce The Pinch

  • “There’s something on my mind, and I need your help understanding.”
  • “I’m bothered by something in our work relationship, and if I don’t tell you what I’m thinking, it’s not fair to you or me.”
  • “Could you spare a minute to talk about something that is bothering me?” or, “No big deal, but I’d like to clear something up.”
  • “I want to talk about something — I’m concerned it could affect our work together if I don’t share it.

Describe the behavior in observable terms. Do not be accusatory or confrontational.

  • “What I saw was _____. Is that what you intended?”
  • “Did I hear correctly when you said_____?”
  • “Would you please help me understand_____?

 Describe how you were affected — own the feelings.

  • “When you (observable behavior) I felt/thought _______ (not, “you made me feel/think”) If I may ask, what was your intention?”
  • “When you said _____, I took it to mean _____, is that correct?”
  • “I’m not certain I’m clear about _____. Would you mind explaining?”

 Describe What You Want

  • “If you’re going to _____. I’d like to understand why/when.”
  • “I’d prefer if you would keep me in the loop, please.”
  • “Could we go over that before you do it again?”

Come To An Understanding

Let the other party discuss their thoughts, wants, and feelings as early in the conversation as possible. Forge a mutual agreement on how you both intend to respond in the future.

  • “I’d like to form a plan to avoid this. How do you think this can be accomplished?”
  • “What do you think we can do to improve our communication?”

White-Haired Man Walking

If I visited your workplace, and an employee said about me, “He’s an old, white-haired man” (BTW, my hair is light blond). What should I do?

  • Go to a third party and express my dislike
  • Show anger toward the commentator
  • Retaliate by finding something I dislike about them

Seems pretty silly doesn’t it? Have you ever done the first three? How’d that work for you? Let’s try the following, instead:

Pinch Conflict Management Meeting Procedure

  1. Put your thoughts in writing before the meeting
  2. Meet in a private room without interruptions
  3. Turn off phones
  4. Communicate respectfully with understanding
  5. Do not be angry, emotional or petty — treat each other with courtesy
  6. Listen attentively
  7. Forge an agreement, an understanding
  8. Honor the agreement
  9. Do not share the agreement with anyone unless a manager is needed to facilitate the meeting

The majority of pinches should be resolved at this time; however, if a resolution is not completed, a facilitator might be needed for a second meeting. Try this pdf to guide you through the process (a form is included on the last page for employees to fill out).

Before I learned the Pinch Theory of Conflict Management

At one time, I was the most accessible senior manager to over 100 employees. I found much of my time spent resolving conflicts, which had little to do with work. I had always considered myself someone who wanted to help others, but this was not the help I imagined. I wanted to help people improve work skills, character development, leadership training, etc. Resolving the conflict of one employee eating another’s snacks didn’t fit my definition of education. The Pinch Theory of conflict management was introduced and incorporated. It was added to the policy book, introduced in new hire orientation, and explained in sub-group meetings. My time spent on work and non-work related conflicts was drastically reduced.

You can find the pinch theory of conflict management and more on conflict resolution in my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, Many organizations, large and small, use my book as the basis for their leadership development program. Does your business have a  management training plan? Do you have a conflict management plan?