Conflict Resolution 101: What You Can Learn from Tom and Katie

by | Jul 12, 2012 | Blog

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

And another one bites the dust. We can’t say we were that surprised when the news broke that Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Tom Cruise.

But we’re still sad to see Tomkat go.

On the other hand, we were all a little suspicious of Tom’s behavior after the Oprah couch jumping incident of 2005.

However, the unlikely couple did last 5 whole years (which equals about 25 years in real people marriages). Way to go, guys!

At first, we were hesitant to cover yet another celebrity divorce. Been there, done that (read our article about Kim Kardashian’s divorce here and Jennifer Lopez’s divorce here).

But we were quite taken aback on how amicably these two celebrities handled their conflict.

So for once, we’re actually using celebrities as an example of what TO DO!

I know, shocking, right?

Specifically, Tom and Katie are a shining example of how to manage conflict.

Every business has conflict. That’s what happens when you have people with different personalities and from different backgrounds all forced to share a small space and actually (gasp) work together! As long as people are individuals there will be the potential for conflict. That’s the first thing to learn about conflict. It isn’t wrong or bad; it’s just part of being a person in contact with other people. The only people who don’t experience conflict are hermits.

Since you can’t prevent conflict, the most important thing is to learn how to handle or manage it in productive ways.

Although you might not have the paparazzi stalking your every move in and outside of the office waiting to leak the big story about the fight over who broke the copy machine or who forget to refill the coffee maker, you do have employees watching your every move waiting to see how you handle conflict.

In many industries, the amount of time spent on conflict management is surprisingly high. A study by the American Management Association says that managers spend at least 24% of their time on managing conflict. Hospital administrators, school administrators, mayors, and city managers spend even more time on this problem area.

So how exactly do you resolve your conflicts in a professional and timely manner that leaves everyone satisfied and gets everyone back to work?

Oh, if only there was a magic phrase to use or spell to cast that resolves your conflict in a jiffy.

Alas, we are still waiting on our acceptance letter from Hogwarts. So we’ll have to get back to you on that spell.

But what we can give you are some quality tips and techniques to use to resolve your conflicts.

First, you must remember that a critical part of resolving conflict is developing an understanding of, and a trust in, shared goals. It requires openness, discipline, and creativity. Showing respect for other people and not blaming them enables people to work for mutual benefit.

On that note, let’s get started.

Conflict Resolution 101:
What You Can Learn from Tom and Katie

Step 1: Assess The Situation

On June 28, 33-year-old Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Cruise, 50, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Katie was pretty stealthy in the months leading up to her divorce, using a pre-paid cell phone to communicate with her lawyer. Cruise reportedly felt blindsided by spilt. But you didn’t see him turning over couches on some afternoon talk show. We assume that he took a step back and assessed the situation. How will my reaction affect my image? (With new movies coming out, this is something he has to think about).

As a manager, supervisor, owner or CEO, you also need to think about how your reaction will affect your image. You are a role model in your company. Your employees look to you to see how they are supposed to act. So whether or not the conflict directly affects you, you need to be conscious of how you attempt to resolve it.

There are two ways of dealing with conflict:

  1. We can be open and up front about it
  2. We can keep it hidden and let it smolder inside us

There are also two types of reactions:

  1. Spontaneous behavior: Neither thinking things through nor considering the consequences before we speak.
  2. Reflective behavior: Thinking before speaking, but risking self-censure to the point that what needs to be said doesn’t get verbalized.

It’s always best to take a step back from the situation, whether it is two employees fighting over a stapler or something more serious like an argument about not meeting deadlines or pointing the blame finger at someone else.

When deciding what course of action to take, it helps if you have a conflict resolution plan already in place.

Step 2: Have a Plan & Execute the Plan

This is where that thing that’s collecting dust on your shelf called an Employee Handbook comes in handy. Do you have a conflict resolution policy written? If so, when was the last time you updated it? What are the procedures you have to follow? Who reports to whom? What paperwork needs to be filled out?

These are things that can be outlined to make solving conflicts pretty painless.

As for Tom and Katie, they had a little thing called a prenuptial agreement (as all celebrity couples should). The prenup allegedly entitles Katie to $3 million for each year of marriage (which will total $15 million). It also splits up their property nicely as well. The only thing they had to iron out was the custody agreement, which seemed to go pretty smoothly. Katie has primary custody of their 6-year-old daughter Suri while Tom will have generous visitation rights.

See how smoothly that worked out because they had a plan? If only every office conflict could be resolved that easily. (Learn more about getting your handbook in order here). But let’s not forget the other important steps in conflict resolution that this couple followed.

Step 3: Keep The Situation Contained

The easiest way to make a conflict worse is to have people talking about. Hearsay and rumors all add fuel to the fire.

Katie and Tom have kept pretty tight lipped about their recent divorce. Their reps did release a joint statement, saying, “We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri’s best interests. We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other’s commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other’s roles as parents.”

So precious. The agreement they reached is also confidential and its terms will not be disclosed, according to their attorneys. Darn.

It seems like nobody is ready to spill the beans about what went wrong. Tom’s ex Nicole Kidman refused to comment on their divorce as did the Church of Scientology.Of course, that hasn’t stopped the tabloids from running their mouths. But what can you do about that?

Here’s what you shouldn’t do: So you have a problem with one or some of your employees, do not rant about it with other managers or supervisors. Office gossip is toxic. It is only going to make the situation worse. So here’s what you do need to do…

Step 4: Come to a Resolution Promptly and Discreetly

Be like Tom and Katie and make it speedy. Dragging out the confrontation about a conflict just builds up the tension. Tom and Katie’s divorce took all of two weeks to smooth out. (Anybody know the record for the quickest divorce? That might be the winner).

So what can you do to resolve a conflict promptly and discreetly?


7 Steps to Ironing Things Out

Be sincere. Remove all masks. No conflict can be resolved unless people are sincere about making things work out.

Communicate in a manner certain to be received. Communication is the ultimate tool for positive outcomes. You must listen, and clarify that you understand the other person. Then you can tell your story, in such a way that they understand where you are coming from.

Identify the real problem. Often the real problem lurks somewhere underneath the apparent problem. For example, Jaime says he has a problem with the schedule, when in actual fact he feels he is doing more than his fair share of the work.

Give up a must win attitude. You could go to the wall defending your position, yet never truly win. No conflict can ever be considered resolved if one party wants to get even some day.

Develop several possible solutions.

Evaluate options and select a solution.

Acknowledge and preserve the value of the relationship. If you are the manager in this situation, then you need to make sure your relationship with your employee is preserved. You are going to have to continue to work closely with this person and you do not want to have the same issue keep popping up.

Remember: Conflict management is a skill.

You can read all the textbooks you like and you can discuss conflict management theory for days, but only when you practice a skill do you become proficient in it.

If your employees or managers have trouble resolving conflict, then we have a training session for you. Let’s be honest, we all can’t be Tom and Katie. We are only human!

Integrity HR offers training on Conflict Resolution: Getting along in the Workplace. We will come onsite to deliver these valuable lessons and more.

Here is what your team will get out of this training:

  • Understand what conflict is and how it can escalate
  • Be able to recognize the five most common conflict resolution styles and when to use them
  • Increase positive information flow, through non-verbal and verbal communication skills
  • Develop effective techniques for intervention strategies
  • Strengthen staff trust and morale
  • Become more confident of your ability to manage conflicts to enhance productivity and performance
Call us today to schedule your training session.

Blog Bonus:

What does your body language say about you? Knowing what your body language says could go a long way in managing conflict when you’re in a tough situation. Alter how you are saying something and you could change the outcome.



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