Force Field Analysis: A Leadership Tool for Managing Conflict

Any change process,

at the individual, group, organizational,

community or societal level

finds conflict inherent in the process.

Similarly, any conflict resolution process

brings about change in some form,

between or within the parties in conflict.

Eric Marcus, 2000


In any conflict situation, change is present. Change is a reality that creates resistance in people, especially people who are engaged in conflict and dispute.

In this post, we will explore Force Field Analysis as a leadership tool leaders can use to manage conflict in the midst of change.

Systems Theory in Conflict Management

It has been said by some theorists that conflict is dependant on change, just as change is dependant on conflict and one may not exist without the other. (Oster, 2006)

The evolution and the survival of a human social system is dependant upon the adaptability for the changing realities that affect that system.

systems theory in conflict management

Movement, at any rate, is fuel for the system to avoid stagnancy. (Laszlo, 2002) Furthermore, the reality of what the people within the social system believe influences the existence of the social systems. (p. 50)

‘Attitudes, beliefs and worldviews’ (p. 50) of the people within the social system, all play a vital role in determining the environment of the social system. (p. 50)

In addition,    

The political and juridical structure of a society tends to remain consistent with the need to regulate individual behavior in accordance with established concepts of justice and the objective demands of social existence. (Laszlo, 2002, p. 38)

This indicates that the perspectives of the participants in a dispute influence the system and the values of society influence the system.

Emergence in Social Systems

Emergence within systems is the properties of the parts that comprise the system as a whole.

These emergent properties are not found in the parts of the system. They are not predictable and can not be discovered by taking apart the entire system, piece by piece and analyzing the parts.

An example of an emergent property is the movement of a car. The car needs all of the parts to make it a car and if the carburetor or the transmission was removed, the emergent property of movement would not exist. Unless of course, the car was moved by another vehicle.

In that case, the additional vehicle would be a subsystem, created to keep the system moving.


Leadership development in conflict management analogy

The integration of the additional vehicle would indicate an emergent property and a change, defined as an evolution, of the initial system.

Change influences conflict.  

Change in Social Systems

The process of change in social systems is rooted in the early works of Kurt Lewin (1947). Lewin theorized that change is defined by a linear description of unfreezing, movement and refreezing of individual and social systems.

The process of unfreezing, from Lewin’s perspective, is ‘a melting of the solidity of the current state’ (p. 367). This melting, in essence, is ‘creating the motivation for becoming different’ (p. 367).

Other theorists have indicated that ‘this part of the change process involves developing awareness of the need for change. This initial stage in the process of change leaves the system in a vulnerable state to resist change.

‘Lewin’s application of force field analysis to characterize human social behaviour is relevant to understanding the process of unfreezing’. (p. 367)

Force Field Analysis

‘Force Field Analysis’ (FFA) is a method to understanding the energy forces surrounding the perceived need for change by the system.

Chart of force field analysis as a leadership tool


The premise of FFA is that decision-making for change is surrounded and influenced by a field of both motivating and opposing forces and that the desired condition of what the system wishes to attain can only be achieved by dislodging the current condition of the system.

Central to this method is the idea that the motivating forces for change must be stronger than the resisting forces opposing the change in order for change to be implemented.


Once motivated for change and aware of the need for change, the social system can start to create ‘movement’ (p. 369) by taking action. Activities that ‘signify movement seems rather straightforward’ (p. 369) but ‘complex processes are operating that make such movement difficult.’ (p. 369)

The reason for these difficulties is the ‘restraining forces’ that are creating a synergy within and around the system that the ‘motivating forces’ need to overcome. This resistance is designed to protect the status quo of the system and to resist change for the survival of the system. (p. 43)

The level of resistance is a key factor influencing the intensity of the conflicts that arise during a change, and the ability to resolve them productively.


Once the system has been unfrozen through the movement within and around the system, and the system remains open for change by continuing to move through the resistance, new ‘actions or process’ (p. 369) need to be established and integrated within the system to support the ‘new level of behavior and lead to resilience against those resistant forces encouraging old patterns and behaviors.’ (p. 369)


Commitment to the new behaviours to create new patterns must be demonstrated and exercised by the system in order for ‘refreezing’ (p. 369) to lead to successful change.

A Process of Change

Throughout all three stages of Lewin’s ‘process of change’, a conflict will emerge through the movement of the system through change.

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.

Conflict, interdependent and interrelated with change, does not exist without change.

force field analysis as a leadership tool overview

Thank you for reading my post.

Until next time,


Keep Your Conversations Forward Moving

If mastering the science of conflict management is a goal you have for yourself in 2018, complete your FREE professional conflict management assessment to learn how to pro-manage conflict at work. Knowing your style is an important first step to working through conflict situations and finding solutions. Backed with testing in 16+ years of training events, our assessment is designed to provide you with options to prepare for your next journey into a difficult conversation. Get your personalized Conflict Management Assessment at Peak Conflict Solutions.

Want more? Read ‘Dispute Resolution at Work’.

Interested in mastering conflict management skills? Start by reading ‘How to Focus on the Behaviour and Not the Person in Conflict Management’.


Laszlo, E. (1996). The systems view of the world: A holistic vision for our time. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.

About The Author

Suzanne Marie

Living life to its fullest. Building mighty communities through connection, belonging, security, and love. I am founder and CEO at Peak Conflict Solutions and my purpose in life is to show your workplace how to set the tone for connection, belonging, and security while creating space for conflict management.