Corporate Mediation Journal

Article

How Pilots Reach for the Sweet Spot of Conflict

Keywords positive work climate, communication, beginning conflict
Authors Eva van der Fluit
Author's information

Eva van der Fluit
Eva van der Fluit is an independent management consultant, supporting professionals such as pilots, doctors, accountants and board members. In her PhD study, she analysed how KLM pilots manage conflict in the cockpit. In the interest of brevity, however, this article includes only a passing reference to this aspect of her work, and those interested in further exploring this theme are referred to her original work. See Professionals and ‘the sweet spot of conflict’, An ethnographic study of pilots. Van der Fluit M.E. (2016). Utrecht University. https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/325587.
  • Abstract

      Both on the ground and in the air, attention to detail can make all the difference between safety and disaster. Focused on pilots, Eva van der Fluit investigates what is needed in order to align the perspectives of all professionals they collaborate with so as to facilitate solid judgment and sound sense-making as the basis for their actions. This can lead to disagreements and conflict, which is not necessarily bad when they can manage, constructively, the pinnacle of differing paradigms at crucial moments. This can be defined as the sweet spot of conflict. This spot represents the essential moment at which all perspectives come to the table, are exchanged and lead to new insights. It takes special skills to manage such a process, many of which can be seen as mediation skills. If pilots, most often the captain, can successfully keep the communication process focused on the content and if they do not make it personal, the sweet spot may result in achieving a coordinated outcome, supported by all involved. The way pilots manage what is known as beginning conflict (as distinct from escalated conflict) has attracted the attention of other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and board members. Even at the lowest level of an organisation, important lessons may be learnt from the best practices developed in the airline industry.

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