June 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB1

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Managing Administrative Conflicts

Conflicts are a daily reality, and dealing with them can be extremely frustrating and uncomfortable. To be successful, Extension administrators must be able to effectively deal with daily conflicts. This study identified the conflict management styles and Myers-Briggs Type personality type preferences of Extension directors and district directors in the North Central Region and examined the relationships that existed between them.

Garee W. Earnest, Ph.D.
Extension Associate
Leadership Development
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address: earnest.1@osu.edu

Dealing with conflict between and among individuals can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience for administrators. When conflict occurs, "strong feelings are aroused, objectivity flies out the window, egos are threatened, and personal relationships are placed in jeopardy" (Schmidt and Tannenbaum, 1960). To be successful administrators, Extension directors and district directors must be able to manage conflict situations effectively. This requires using different conflict management styles, depending upon the conflict situation faced.

This study was designed to: (a) determine the conflict management styles and the Myers-Briggs Type (MBTI) preferences of directors and district directors in the North Central Region, and (b) examine the relationships that existed between the administrators' conflict management styles and their Myers-Briggs Type preferences and demographic characteristics.


The population for this study was the 12 directors and 68 district directors in the North Central Region. Since this was a relatively small population, a census study was conducted using mailed questionnaires. A total of 78 (97.5%) questionnaires were completed and returned. Non-response error was controlled using the procedure of comparing early respondents to late respondents outlined by Miller and Smith (1983). No significant differences were found between the early and late respondents. Therefore, results were generalized to the population. A conflict management styles instrument, developed by Rahim (1983), was used to measure five independent conflict dimensions: integrating (collaborating), obliging, compromising, dominating, and avoiding. The MBTI measured the four dichotomous psychological type preferences of extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Both instruments were found to be face and content valid and reliable with Extension administrators.

Results and Conclusions

More than three-fourths (76.9%) of the population was male. The mean ages were 52.6 years for directors and 50.1 years for district directors. Nearly 92% of the directors held a doctorate degree whereas slightly more than 71% of the district directors held a master's degree. The average number of years employed in Extension was over 22 years for both groups of administrators. More than two-thirds (66.7%) of the directors and nearly 40% of the district directors had less than five years experience in their current positions. Average tenure as an administrator, including service in other organizations, was 15.7 years for directors and 11.9 years for district directors.

The largest group of directors and district directors reported they used the integrating (collaborating) conflict management style when confronted with a conflict situation. On the MBTI, the majority of the administrators were classified as of the thinking/judging personality style indicating they make logical, objective, and tough-minded decisions and prefer a decisive, structured and organized environment.

Administrators classified as having an intuitive preference were more apt to use the integrating (collaborating) conflict management style when confronted with a conflict situation. Those who favored the sensing preference reported tending to handle conflict situations using the avoiding or compromising conflict management styles. Administrators who favored the judging preference were more likely to avoid conflict situations.

As tenure in Extension increased, the more the administrators preferred to use the avoiding conflict management style. The longer the administrators remained in their current position, the more they tended to dominate the conflict situation. Both the directors and district directors tended to use the integrating (collaborating) and obliging conflict management styles less as their tenure in an administrative position increased. Administrators who held a master's degree or less were more apt to use the obliging conflict management style than those who held a doctoral degree.


Directors and district directors need to understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent within each of the five conflict management styles and work toward the appropriate use of each style depending upon the situation. Additionally, Extension administrators need to appreciate the diversity of personality types within their organization as this awareness can lead to better management skills and additional alternatives during a conflict situation.

Those administrators with considerable tenure should consider the costs and benefits before using the avoiding conflict management style. If the benefits of resolving the conflict outweigh the costs or losses, then another conflict management style should be used to manage the conflict and to avoid further complications.

Based on the findings of this study, it seems appropriate that conflict management and mediation be included as a major component of any graduate level course on administration and management in Extension or adult education; and that conflict management be the topic of inservice training for Extension administrators.


Miller, L. E., & Smith, K. L. (1983). Handling nonresponse issues. Journal of Extension, XXI(September/October), 45-50.

Rahim, M. A. (1983). Rahim organizational conflict inventories: Professional manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Schmidt, W. H., & Tannenbaum, R. (1960). Management of differences. Harvard Business Review, 38(6), 107-115.