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Conflict Resolution Within The Supply Chain - Can't We All Just Get Along


Elaine Whittington, C.P.M., CPCM, A.P.P.
Elaine Whittington, C.P.M., CPCM, A.P.P., G & E Enterprises, Sunland, Ca 91040, 818-352-4995,

85th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2000 

One of the major components of effective supply chain management is effective communication and the ability to work effectively in a team environment. Most important is the ability to handle conflicts in a positive manner. If the team concept fails so does the supply chain. Sometimes it is helpful to know your own "conflict personality" and how best to interface with similar as well as different "conflict styles."

Do you know your own conflict personality? Are you a pragmatist, an idealist, a realist, an analyst or a synthesist. Wendy Grant's book "Resolving Conflicts" has an example of an excellent test to determine how you handle conflict. It asks a series of questions which you answer and which help you categorize your "conflict style." Knowing how you handle conflict is invaluable in working with others and avoiding the major pitfalls of interactions which may be emotional or which deal with emotional issues.

Effective supply chain management is dependent on people working together in a team environment. Often because the members of the team come from different areas of the work place goals and objectives as well as working style may differ greatly. Members of other departments who were always considered enemies are now on "our" team. How can we interface peacefully and effectively? What can an engineer possibly know about the goals of the purchasing department and conversely what can purchasing understand about the engineering of the product? What can we do to structure the team interaction toward a positive result for the firm?

Let's take a look at the various conflict personalities:


This individual is practical and likes to make new ideas work. He/she is impatient and wants results immediately. Pragmatists make great negotiators, good salespeople because they usually respond immediately. They love praise and are very flexible, but often they don't plan ahead. The good news is that they can and will do the impossible if asked.


Idealists have a number of excellent personal traits. They are easy to talk to, open, unprejudiced, usually unrealistic, and trustworthy. They are those people that you meet that are almost too good to be true. An idealist believes that things should be right, seeks the best for everyone, and truly welcomes ideas. This individual honestly believes the world can be better, hates logic and knows in their heart that values are more important than facts.


Most of us believe we are realists. Quite often we really aren't. Realists see life as it is and have lots of energy. They need agreement to get things done and are often far too outspoken. Sometimes realists are viewed as pigheaded because they need to be in control at all times. They like quick results which tends to make them quite impatient. If you like straightforward folks you will love your realist friends.


Synthesists are those of us who truly love conflict and distrust most people. They are the "what if" people which makes them very creative. Most scientists fall into this category because they love change just for the sake of change. Synthesists are excellent in a business environment and their saving grace is their excellent sense of humor.


All of us can spot the analyst rather quickly. They are stable and predictable and not terribly intuitive. They like detail, are deep thinkers and love logic. Analysts like to be right and take great pride in being competent. They are studious, sometimes remote, inflexible but the good news is that they get things done eventually.

Having looked at the various "conflict personalities" we should explore some strategies to use to help us deal with conflicts as they arise. Below is a list of major strategies which work:

  • Know how you think
  • Know your strengths
  • Know your weaknesses
  • Try to work with individuals who share your values
  • Understand who you are working with
  • Give yourself credit for achievements
  • Enjoy being unique

Some of the best ways to avoid major problems are as follows:

  • Avoid direct accusations
  • Avoid verbal abuse
  • Listen and show you are listening
  • Acknowledge (not necessarily agree) with the problem
  • Agree to disagree if you must

The balance of the paper will describe specific difficult personalities and give you some useful strategies for handling these situations.


Tyrants believe that leaders are expected to correct mistakes however they rarely understand that it is impossible to reason with the enraged. Tyrants thrive on power and control and usually are happiest when they are or have destroyed your ego.

The best strategy to handle a tyrant is to appear firm and unemotional. Prepare to act and use as much tact as possible to get their attention and respect. REMEMBER: even a tyrant needs a friend.

The Slave Driver

In order to deal with this personality you must understand that most slave drivers are over ambitious. Sometimes they don't even realize how much they are piling in your corner. Often they are bent on being the group leader and they take great pride in passing the work on without taking any for themselves. On occasion the actually fear your abilities.

It is important to be sure that you are indeed overworked and that you cannot offload any of the extra work on someone else. If you can, negotiate priorities with the "slave driver" so he/she will understand your approach.

The Comma Counter

Have you ever interfaced with a comma counter? These are the individuals who demand perfection and usually can't see the "big" picture. They often lack imagination and sometimes don't even know what it takes to do the job. They are those wonderful folks who take great pride and job in filling out forms and keeping records.

The best strategy to use with these folks is to take them an alternative solution. Be sure that you have done your homework and know if your solution has been tried before. It is important to face risks realistically and scale down actions if necessary.

The Intimidator

We have all worked with intimidators who imply that they know people "in high places." Often they don't even verbalize the threat, but they often have perceived power. These people use this type of power to get their way.

The best way to deal with intimidators is to be ready for them. Rehearse what you want to say to them and always remain poised and calm. Use emotional space if necessary and know when to laugh it off. Be firm, forceful and assertive.

The Competitor

Teams don't work well when the members are in competition. Competitors must surpass everyone and are often pushy and presumptuous. They are the ones who take a rejection of one of their ideas during brainstorming as a personal rejection. One of the major problem with this type of conflict personality is that you don't always know that you are in a contest.

Your best bet here is to be professional and gracious. You must be honorable in taking and giving credit, no matter how difficult it is to do. Sometimes it is best to redirect their efforts.

The "One-Upper"

This type of person probably isn't even aware of how much conflict they cause. They are very prone to exaggeration and often display both ept and inept skills. They always have better skills, friends in high places and whatever else it takes to annoy you.

It is best to pay attention to these poor souls, they need it. Give them the recognition that they deserve but take what they say as a fact only after they have proven it. Play their game if you must to keep the peace.

The "Hothead"

Hotheads are one of the hardest of all the personalities to deal with. They provoke arguments and leave the group with much frustration. Often you are not sure just what will provoke them so you are not sure what you can or cannot say. Sometimes they argue with you when they are actually angry with someone else.

Hotheads must be handled carefully. It is important that they do not get special treatment. Probably best to delay discussions of problems until the temper has died down and then try to work together to resolve the problem.

The "Rule Bender"

Whenever there is a group and there are clear rules for the group, there is someone who insists on bending those rules. They cut corners and skirt the border of acceptability. Sometimes they even make their own rules and hold your needs hostage until you agree to the new rules.

The important thing here is to stick to your guns and if you do make a change make it for all who are participating. Don't change the rules unless it makes sense to do so.

The Prima Donna

The person I am describing here is the member of the team who exhibits a good deal of temperament, vanity or conceit. This individual is usual moody and often has a short fuse. A skilled prima donna can wear down your resistance.

It is important to confront these individuals and "call their bluff." Continue to emphasize how important it is for them to be a member of the "team."

The supply chain is most dependent on the interaction of various individuals both from your firm and that of a number of suppliers. Effectiveness of the supply chain management is very dependent on the ability to be successful in the interfacing of these diverse individuals. It will help to focus on the task and not the individual and if you encounter any personality related problems be sure to handle them directly with the individual involved using tact and as little emotion as possible. Try to befriend your enemies and realize that when your ego is healthy you can afford to share. Always remember that our behavior is influenced by our needs, our background, the way we view life and the values we place upon ourselves and others.


Axelrod, Alan & Holtje, Jim, 201 Ways To Deal With Difficult People, McGraw Hill, 1997

Bildeau, Lorraine M.S., The Anger Workbook, Hazelden Educational Materials, 1992

Gerard, Richard V., PhD, Handling Verbal Confrontation, Oughten House Foundations, 1999

Grant, Wendy, Resolving Conflicts, Element Books, Inc., 1997

Grupta, M.K., Control Yourself, Indus Publishing Inc., 1997

Solomon, Muriel, Working With Difficult People, Prentice Hall, 1990

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