I think that such fuzziness is common, and significantly complicates how we do and are able to respond to conflict within the workplace.
Leadership in the university itself is weird, as a faculty member may rotate into a position of authority, and simply rotate back into the ranks once that tour of duty is done.
These individuals seem, cantankerously and perversely, to relish the disputes that they manufacture.
Our culture has developed many entertaining and colorful phrases to describe such people, and so I don’t need to concern myself with those folks here.
But when those same friends are also our colleagues, that dynamic may mean that we allow problems to go unresolved, and possibly to grow.
Leaders within our universities, at every level, from the department level on up, have a particular set of responsibilities when it comes to conflict.
Some steps for dealing with conflict include: Unfortunately, some of the features of academic life train us to be scared of and avoid conflicts.
One of the unintended consequences of the dominant tenure model is that, while it does protect academic freedom, it also creates such a dramatic power differential between the tenured and the untenured that junior faculty are effectively discouraged from addressing conflict directly, for fear (whether justified or not) of upsetting those who will later weigh their tenure cases.
I want to acknowledge that avoidance might be exactly the correct way to respond to some varieties of conflict, but is hardly an appropriate (non)response to all of the situations within which conflict arises.
Passive reactions to active problems can also be quite harmful.