Apply a “My 15%” Rule to Develop and Leverage Conflict Competency in Your Organization

The U.S. Army has what it calls its’ “My 15%” rule.  Believing that most people have about 15 percent control over their work situations, the Army asks everyone, no matter their rank, “What’s your 15% of the problem?” “Where do you have freedom to act?”, for mutual benefit.

No matter your organization, to me: adopting a”my 15%” approach is a practical way to develop and leverage constructive conflict behaviours.

15% is a reality check on the challenge of changing personal habits, increasing self-awareness, and moving from reflection to action.  15% might be doable. It can be measured. To ask someone to change, without providing specifics beyond, “you have to change your behaviour, and contribute more to the team” is sure to be a shared exercise in futility.

The U.S. Army’s “My 15%” rule

From the U.S. Army’s Applied Critical Thinking (Training) Handbook:

“Most people have about 15 percent control over their work situations. The other 85 percent rests in the broader context, shaped by the general structures, systems, events and culture in which they operate. The challenge rests in finding ways of creating transformational change incrementally: By encouraging people to mobilize small but significant “15 percent initiatives” that can snowball in their effects. When guided by a sense of shared vision, the process can tap into the self-organizing capacities of everyone involved. It doesn’t matter if you’re a General Officer or an enlisted soldier, a Senior Executive or a member of the team. You still have only your 15 percent. Where do you have freedom to act? What’s in your 15%?”

I encountered My 15% in Bryce Hoffman’s book, Red Teaming; a terrific resource on critical and contrarian thinking methods, and problem-solving, from multiple perspectives.

Developing and leveraging constructive conflict behaviours

Here are three ways to grow your conflict management skills, and capacity to influence others in the process; Your 15%:

  • Increase self-awareness. Gaining awareness of your ‘hot buttons’ and conflict behaviours, and working a personalized conflict management action plan, can be the foundation of your ‘walking the talk’. “It’s great to see how Jim has progressed, in understanding his own behaviours, and how they impact others on the team.”
  • Participate in difficult conversations. Visibility is opportunity, for yourself and others. Leverage your increased self-awareness in the difficult workplace conversations and problem-solving contexts that matter to you. “Ah, I was so impressed by Anika in the conversation I had with her, yesterday. Even though I was hostile with her, she didn’t reciprocate. Instead she responded constructively.”
  • Guide others. Even if you are not in charge, you can lead. Through your actions, provide effective conflict management support in your role as a peer, coach and/or mentor. “Sara is such a role model. She truly lives our organization’s most valued behaviours, through her support of others.”

Culture starts at the top

While 15% applies to everyone in the organization, of course, the biggest bang for buck around influencing conflict competency typically resides with leaders; e.g., through employees management, corporate role, public profile.

As a leader, what percentage of your employees work situation do you consider in their control (e.g., 15% in U.S. Army case)? Do you measure and evaluate your employees on how well they have responded, e.g., via constructive or destructive behaviours, to what’s in their control?


[Ben provides conflict management services for small to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits and local governments. Contact Ben.]

Image credit: Antonio Guillem on


  1. Thank you for these useful insights. The 15% rule makes sense.

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