7 Tips to Navigate Boardroom Dynamics

How to Handle Conflict at the Director Level


Focus on interests, not positions: Encourage directors to focus on underlying interests rather than defending fixed positions, facilitating the identification of common goals and consensus-building.
Encourage active listening: Promote the practice of active listening, where directors focus on understanding different viewpoints rather than preparing immediate responses, enhancing collaborative discussions.
Utilize facilitated sessions: Engage external facilitators from neutral organizations to guide challenging discussions, ensuring balanced participation and effective problem-solving.
Conflict at the Boardroom Level
Lisa Jaye Facilitator and Trainer

The boardroom is where decisions are made that shape the future of a company. In this environment, conflict is not avoided or deterred, as it’s often a critical part of the decision-making process. However, how we manage conflict at the director level can be the difference between constructive decision-making and fruitless disagreement. Here are seven tips to help navigate boardroom dynamics constructively.

Tip 1: Establish clear rules of engagement.

Before diving into the intricacies of board discussions, it’s essential to establish clear rules of engagement. These should include respect for speaking times, confidentiality and the process for resolving disagreements. Such ground rules set the tone for constructive interactions and ensure that all directors feel heard and respected. 

Tip 2: Focus on interests, not positions.

Directors often come prepared to defend their positions. However, focusing on underlying interests rather than rigid positions can open pathways to consensus. By understanding the motivations behind each director's stance, the board can identify common goals and work toward solutions that address the broader interest of the institution. 

Tip 3: Encourage active listening.

Active listening is a critical skill in the boardroom. Directors should strive to listen more than they speak and to understand differing viewpoints. Stephen R. Covey, renowned for his influential book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, aptly noted, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Engage fully with a speaker’s ideas. Ask clarifying questions and reflect their points to confirm understanding. A boardroom must have active listeners genuinely focused on understanding each other to foster a more collaborative and productive environment. 

Tip 4: Implement conflict resolution training.

There are many third-party conflict resolution services, such as JAMS Pathways, that offer valuable insights. Each boardroom should explore a variety of training services to determine which one is right for them. Holding these affiliated trainings provides an opportunity to develop advanced negotiation skills and communication techniques. In addition, bringing in an outside party encourages an open, politics-free discussion and environment and encourages directors to acknowledge, challenge and refine their conflict management skills.

Tip 5: Know when to take a break.

In heated moments, sometimes you just need a break. Taking a brief recess can allow directors to cool down, gather their thoughts and approach the issue with a new perspective. Breaks can prevent the escalation of conflict and facilitate a more measured, productive discussion upon return. 

Tip 6: Utilize facilitated sessions.

Sometimes, an external facilitator can help navigate particularly challenging conflicts. Facilitators from organizations such as JAMS Pathways offer neutrality, expert guidance and structured approaches to dispute resolution. They can help direct the flow of conversation, ensure equal participation and introduce problem-solving techniques to the board. 

Tip 7: Reflect on and learn from each conflict.

After resolving a conflict, it’s beneficial for the board to reflect on the dispute resolution process. Discuss what worked, what didn’t and how similar situations could be handled better in the future. This reflection not only improves future conflict management strategies, but also strengthens the board’s collective decision-making capabilities.


Managing conflict at the director level requires a blend of strategic preparation and responsive adaptation. By fostering a culture of respectful communication and employing effective conflict resolution techniques, directors can turn potential discord into valuable dialogues that drive the company forward. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate conflict, but to harness it as a dynamic tool for organizational success.

This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals.
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