Building and Sustaining Community Partnerships for Teen Pregnancy Prevention: A Working Paper. 6. Managing Conflict


Conflict is seen as inherent in partnerships: in the tension between members' individual agendas and their shared mission; in members' divided loyalties to their own organization and to the group; between the coalition and the targets of change; and among members and staff.(145) Conflict and cooperation are simultaneous processes within inter-organizational relationships.(146) Conflict is likely to develop when "(1) participants have a history of adversarial relations; (2) the collaboration includes ideologically diverse participants or those with different professional or organizational cultures; (3) the outcome has the potential to shift dominance from those in power; (4) the parties hold differing interests regarding desired outcome; or (5) new issues or players emerge."(147) In many partnerships, conflicts tend to diminish over time.(148)

The best advice for managing these inevitable differences is to acknowledge that they will occur, address them openly, and apply techniques of consensus building-open communication and expression of misgivings, agreeing to disagree, respect for others' point of view, and a willingness to work together and make compromises.(149) Training in conflict resolution can help partnerships manage their differences.(150) Conflict can present opportunities to develop new options and ways of working together. By resolving conflicts positively, partnerships can improve the climate, facilitate future interaction, and increase cooperation among members.(151) Abramson and Rosenthal cite the inability to deal directly with conflict as one of the most serious obstacles to coalition success.(152) Alter and Hage find excessive conflict to be an indicator of partnership imbalance.(153)

In managing the tensions between members' loyalties to their own organizations and to the partnership, the literature provides some specific suggestions. Representatives of organizations need authority and credibility within their own group(154) and latitude to act within the partnership.(155) Representatives' responsibilities within their own organizations may need to be reduced to allow them time to devote to the partnership; stable representation from partner organizations is also important to partnership success.(156) Recognizing the complexity of the various roles of partnership members and discussing strategies for managing them are useful in assuring success.(157)