McKinsey Conflict Resolution: How the firm approaches this critical skill

McKinsey is arguably one of the most prestigious and successful consulting firms in the world. The company has a reputation for solving some of their clients’ most critical issues in a short time. This amount of responsibility can bring on a tremendous amount of pressure, and, at times, that can lead to conflict. The conflict can be between client and consultant (e.g., a senior client does not agree with McKinsey’s emerging recommendations) or between consultant and consultant (e.g., interpersonal conflicts; differing opinions about how to structure analysis).

McKinsey values consultants who can manage conflict successfully, especially given the importance of building long-lasting, productive client relationships. In fact, McKinsey cares so much about conflict resolution skills that they will often double click on the skill during your personal experience interview (PEI).

This article will share why conflict resolution is so important at McKinsey and the keys to successful conflict resolution.

McKinsey Conflict Resolution

What Is McKinsey Conflict Resolution Like?

McKinsey takes conflict resolution extremely seriously. By enabling consultants to productively get past conflict with each other and with their clients, McKinsey can help clients drive to a distinctive solution addressing their most critical challenges. At McKinsey, the approach to conflict resolution is often bespoke, given the client situation is always different. Typically, when a conflict arises, a junior consultant can align on the approach to resolve the conflict with their engagement manager (“EM”). Depending on the criticality of the situation, the conflict can be discussed in problem solving sessions with the Associate Partner (“AP”) or Partner. The approach to conflict resolution depends on the seriousness of the conflict. For example, the approach to manage conflict between a junior level consultant and working level client differs from the approach to manage conflict between an EM and the client’s senior executives.

What Is McKinsey’s Goal in Conflict Resolution?

Ultimately, McKinsey’s goal in conflict resolution is to maintain a working relationship between the parties and enable the parties to get past the conflict. Taking a step back, McKinsey is hired by c-suite executives to come in and solve their most critical challenges. McKinsey is also hoping to deliver distinctive work to drive client impact and enable follow-on work. In order to achieve these goals, McKinsey needs to make sure that the consultants and clients are able to work together effectively, and any conflicts are resolved quickly.

At McKinsey, Is Conflict Resolution Usually With Clients or Peers?

Again, McKinsey consultants often work on tight deadlines when solving stressful situations. As such, the conflicts can be equally likely to occur between consultant and client or between consultant and consultant. For example, conflicts between consultant and client can occur if consultants are looking for a data request on a tight timeline, and clients do not have the bandwidth to meet the deadlines. Further, two consultants can have conflict if they have different opinions on how to structure analyses to address the problem statement.

Keys To Successful Conflict Resolution

There are three keys to successful conflict resolution:

  1. Understand The Bigger Picture: Often in conflict, individuals can get caught up with who was right and who was wrong. In these instances, it is important to take a step back and put any egos to the side. It is important to realize that getting the client to an optimal solution requires healthy, working relationships.
  2. Remember Mental Models: Mental models refer to the way individuals can think through a problem. Mental models can be influenced by several variables including an individuals’ self-perception. Individuals’ mental models can change how they perceive the same situation. Where one individual may see a conflict, the other may see a debate. To effectively manage conflict, it’s important to think through how the other party may perceive the conflict. For more on mental models, see the Management Consulted deep-dive article here.
  3. Employ Your Emotional Intelligence: During any type of conflict, it is important to use your interpersonal skills to manage the conflict successfully. For example, to fully understand where the other party is coming from, it is critical to use active listening skills. In addition, it is important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to see where they are coming from. Finally, it’s important to realize that being right is not always the most important thing. Rather, it is okay to admit that you are wrong.


As such, conflict resolution is a critical skill at McKinsey. It is so essential to the job that McKinsey specifically screens for conflict resolution skills during the interview process. Conflict resolution at McKinsey is especially important because consultants and clients need to develop healthy working relationships to drive to the best solution. Further, by managing conflict successfully, McKinsey can deepen its client relationships. There are three keys to successful McKinsey conflict resolution:

  1. Understand the bigger picture
  2. Remember mental models
  3. Employ emotional intelligence

For coaching on McKinsey conflict resolution or to look for ways to learn how to shape your stories on conflict resolution for the personal experience interview, work one-to-one with an expert ex-McKinsey coach!


Additional Resources:


Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training