9 Conflict and Polarity Thinking



This lesson is on conflict which can be viewed primarily as the antithesis of team collaboration.  Conflict can be examined through various lenses of interprofessional competency.  It explores conflict and its management which is not the same as conflict resolution.  It is important to recognize that not all conflicts can be resolved.  Team members may need to “respectfully disagree”.  Seemingly unresolvable conflicts do not mean that the persons involved should not try to manage or address the conflict at hand.  Unresolvable conflicts or recurring conflicts are very difficult because they may include polarities instead of conflicts.  Polarity thinking is introduced as way to address recurring problems that may not be conflicts or problems, but rather a pair of polarities.


For this lesson you will:

  1. Identify the common sources of conflict that occur in healthcare.
  2. Describe ways to de-escalate a conflict such as conflict resolution strategies and negotiation.
  3. Compare and contrast conflict resolution and conflict management.


IPEC Sub-competencies – Values/Ethics for Interprofessional Practice
VE8 Manage ethical dilemmas specific to interprofessional patient/population centered care situations.
IPEC Sub-competencies – Interprofessional Communication
CC5 Give timely, sensitive, instructive feedback to others about their performance on the team, responding respectfully as a team member to feedback from others.
CC6 Use respectful language appropriate for a given difficult situation, critical conversation, or interprofessional conflict.
CC7 Recognize how one’s own uniqueness, including experience level, expertise, culture, power, and hierarchy within the health care team, contributes to effective communication, conflict resolution, and positive interprofessional working relationship.
IPEC Sub-competencies – Teams and Teamwork
TT6 Engage self and others to constructively manage disagreements about values, roles, goals, and actions that arise among health and other professionals and with patients, families, and community members.


Conflict – a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests, or concerns.

Conflict resolution – the process used by two or more persons find a peaceful solution to their dispute.

Groupthink – The symptoms of groupthink arise when the members of decision-making groups become motivated to avoid being too harsh in their judgments of their leaders’ or their colleagues’ ideas.  They adopt a soft line of criticism, even in their own thinking.  At their meetings, all the members are amiable and seek complete concurrence on every important issue, with no bickering or conflict to spoil the cozy, “we-feeling” atmosphere” (Janis, 1991).

Negotiation – a method by which people settle differences.  It is a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding an argument.

Polarity thinking – Meanwhile, polarity thinking is introduced as way to address recurring problems that may not be problems, but rather a pair of polarities (Wesorick, 2016).


  • The following sources with study guides have been curated for student learning.
  • For application and demonstration of learning, lab exercises can be found in the second half of this online education resource, Lab Exercises.

WATCH:  How to respond to conflict?  A 3-step framework

Study guide: As you watch the video consider how you would answer to the following questions(s): What is Cool Down?  What is Slow Down?  What is Engage Constructively?

REFERENCE:  UCSF IPE Program. (2021, February 7). Module 4. Segment 3:  How to respond to conflict?  A 3-step framework. [Video].  YouTube.

WATCH:  Conflict in the healthcare setting

Study guide: This video is one of a set of videos that offers content concerning conflict.  This video explores conflict in terms of what happens in healthcare, the types of conflict (also known as sources of conflict), the consequences of conflict, barriers to conflict resolution, and the ways that team dynamics is important to successfully manage a conflict.

REFERENCE:  UCSF IPE Program.  (2021, February 7).  Module 4. Segment 1:  Conflict in the health care setting. [Video].  YouTube.

READ:  The nature of conflict:  Conflict resolution or conflict management

Study Guide:  This is a brief comparison of conflict management and conflict resolution that clarifies why conflict management is the goal for high performing teams.

REFERENCE:  Communication Institute for Online Scholarship (CIOS).  (2021, February 8).  The nature of conflict:  Conflict resolution or conflict management

READ:  Using ‘polarity thinking’ to achieve sustainable positive outcomes

Study Guide:   What is polarity thinking?  “It is a way of thinking that helps one understand the difference between problems to solve and polarities that need to be leveraged.  It includes a principal driven model to leverage polarities.  The formal systematic approach provides a framework that leads to levels of clarity not previously achieved by old ways of thinking.  It is the missing logic that can be used to reach new outcomes and possibilities needed to advance our cultures and our practices” (Wesorick, 2015, p.5).  More specifically, Levknecht gives a clear and concise overview of how recurring and seemingly unsolvable problems are probably really polarities, interdependent pairs of perspectives.  The author explains how leveraging polarities requires honoring opposing perspectives to establish the “Greater Good”.  Lastly, Levknecht lists common polarities that are seen in healthcare; of special interest for this lesson is the polarity of individual and team.

REFERENCE:  Levknecht, L. (2021, February 5).  Using ‘polarity thinking’ to achieve sustainable positive outcomes.

WATCH:  Basic negotiation

Study guide: As you watch the video consider what are the 5 steps in negotiating an agreement?

REFERENCE:  UCSF IPE Program.  (2021, February 7).  Module 4. Segment 6:  Basic negotiation skills.  [Video].  Youtube.


Janis, I.  (1991).  Groupthink.  In E. Griffin (Ed.).  A First Look at Communication Theory (pp.235-246).  New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Wesorick, B.  (2016).  Polarity thinking in healthcare:  The missing link to achieve transformation.  Amherst, MA:  HRD Press.  ISBN  978-1-61014-406-3


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Interprofessional Education Lab Manual And Workbook Copyright © by Geraldine Terry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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