Conflict Resolution Strategies, Tips and Techniques

 

conflictConflict Strategies

 

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value” - Thomas Paine

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Part 1 of 5 – Introduction

Most people would say they do not like conflict, and many people go to great trouble to avoid it. But although conflict is often seen as entirely negative, in fact is not all bad. Conflict can also be a constructive spur for change, a source of motivation and passion. Conflicts can also result in positive outcomes for everyone involved – especially if a conflict is managed effectively.

In these pages we will look at Conflict resolution strategies that can help you deal effectively with conflicts that affect you, and other people that you work with or live with.

In the section “What is Conflict” we will start by outlining some of the defining features of conflicts, how they develop, and how they are expressed.  We’ll learn that conflicts are often confused by the emotions of the people involved – and why gaining a clear understanding of a conflict is often the most important step towards an effective resolution.

In the main section of this page, “How to Resolve Conflict” , we will introduce some of the basic ideas of conflict resolution, and some fundamental conflict resolution strategies that apply in many cases. We’ll learn about the concepts of substantive conflict (sometime known as “good conflict”) and affective conflict (also known as “bad conflict”) and how they can best be dealt with.  We will also introduce some advanced conflict resolution techniques, such as the use of formal conflict resolution models that can help you to clarify the driving factors in a conflict, and indicate the best ways to attempt to resolve it.

We will also look at “Conflict in the Workplace” and how it can be managed to minimize harmful consequences while promoting positive outcomes. And we will look at how “Conflict Resolution Training” can help you deal more effectively with conflicts, or even develop a career in conflict resolution.

By their nature, conflicts are often confusing and upsetting for the people involved. The conflict resolution strategies outlined in these pages can help you to analyze and deal effectively with conflicts in your workplace, at your school, in your relationships, or in your family.

 

Conflicts Are Part of Life

Conflict is a normal part of everyday life, and appears to be a fundamental and natural phenomenon in human societies – as well as in many animal societies. Any organization, group of people, or couple can expect to encounter conflict at some time. In fact, conflict should be expected to occur from time to time – and so it can be planned for and managed when it happens.

Conflict can happen whenever two or more people have strong feelings about an issue, a task or project, or a shared interest. In personal terms, this might include conflict in the workplace, or in a school – such as an argument between co-workers, or conflict between students at a school that leads to fighting or bullying. Conflict can also arise in the interest that lovers or family members feel for each other. On the largest scales, conflict can arise between communities, social groups and nations.

 

Common Purposes, Shared Interests

Conflict is most likely to occur among people who share some common purpose or interest, such as working together, learning together or living together – and an effort to recognize those common interests can be an important step in the effective resolution of a conflict. Although conflicts are often based on shared concerns, different people will respond differently to a conflict – even if they may be on the same “side”.

 

Conflict Can Be Destructive

Unchecked conflicts can be destructive. Conflicts can grow and spark new conflicts, drawing in more and more people, while diverting their attention and emotional energy. Working relationships and work productivity can suffer. Even outwardly trivial conflicts have been known to ruin the relationships between lifelong friends, and to threaten the unity and morale of the most disciplined organizations. In the worst cases, conflict can lead to abusive, criminal or violent behavior – including violence between individuals and wars between nations.

 

Conflict Can Be Creative

But conflict within a group can also bring attention to shared problems, and motivate people to address them. It can also serve as a useful warning of future potential problems. For the American philosopher John Dewey (1859 – 1952), conflict was inspirational: It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.”

 

Conflict Can Be Resolved

To a certain extent, conflicts are predictable and steps can be taken to deal with them effectively when they occur.  And although many people avoid or fear conflicts, there are ways to deal with conflicts that can help produce better outcomes and relationships. In almost all cases, the most important step in resolving a conflict is to gain a clear understanding of the conflict – particularly about the people involved, and the causes of the dispute. Knowledge of how conflicts develop may be able to help you “head off” disputes before they escalate into serious conflicts. You will be also be able to recognize the common pitfalls involved in conflict resolution, and to identify workable solutions to conflicts.

 

 Conflict Resolution Strategies – Part 2 of 5 – What Is Conflict?

Have you ever been in a personal conflict with someone else? Most people have. It might be a problem with someone at home, at school, or at work that grows into an upsetting and negative situation – like a bitter argument or a shouting match. Almost everyone has experienced this sort of personal conflict in their lives at some time or another. Conflict can appear in many forms, but one of the characteristic features is that the people involved in a conflict feel threatened in some way. The sense of threat makes dealing with conflict more complex than dealing with a simple dispute. When people feel threatened they easily become frightened, upset or angry, and these emotions can confuse or exaggerate how they react to a dispute. The good news is that most conflicts can be dealt with effectively, and conflict can even be a powerful creative force. It has been said that conflict inspires all art, and is the driving force of human history and progress.

 

Conflict and Art

 

 RageGoddess, sing the rage of Peleusson Achilles,

murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling
down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great
fighterssouls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts
for the dogs and birds,
and
the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin,
Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,

Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

 

                  - The Iliad, Homer

 

Conflict is found in the oldest stories of ancient heroes, told in the oldest surviving poems. Homer’s Iliad, written almost 3000 years ago, begins with an argument between the Greek hero Achilles and King Agamemnon as they laid siege to the ancient city ofTroy. Eventually the personal conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon – who were on the same side – led to the total destruction of the city. Even the gods of Greek myth were caught up in the conflict. The argument was like a butterfly’s wing that fanned the fires that burnedTroy.

Human conflict is deemed to be the inspiration for all art, all drama and all literature: star-crossed lovers, heroic struggles, the conflicts of loyalty that a spy fears, and the conflicts of interest that a politician might encounter. Blockbuster movies are often type-cast by their central conflict – what would Batman be, without the Joker?

 

Conflict and Human Nature

Human conflict seems to be almost a fractal expression of human nature – similar patterns can be seen at all scales, but it is never exactly repeated. Conflict ranges by degree, in step with the number of people affected: it can involve just two people, or large groups of people – such as in a football match, a political campaign, or a war. At the largest scales, conflict can be seen in the relationships between nations and peoples, in wars and political struggles; between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless; and between mankind’s ecological footprint, and the resources of the earth that bears it.

There have always been gloomy prophecies of a “final conflict” that will bring the world to an end – a final battle, an Apocalypse or Ragnarok. Scientists have even warned of a more plausible final conflict, between the orbits of the earth and a giant asteroid – but fortunately the danger remains very slight, for now.  Hollywoodsaw the potential of the idea, however, and made it into a movie called Armageddon, after yet another “final battle.” But even in the darkest of these cultural myths, however, lies the belief in a new dawn, a new beginning, a new world. Conflict, by its very nature, only lasts a limited period and will be superseded by something new and better. Imbalance leads to conflict, which leads to a new balance.

 

Conflict and Human Progress

Conflict seems to oppose harmony, but it can herald a new harmony. “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”) the Italian astronomer Galileo is reputed to have said, when he was imprisoned for insisting that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo’s discoveries conflicted with the dogma of the church at the time, but they led to new scientific understandings of our place in the universe.

Progress in science and philosophy occurs when the nature of the universe conflicts with expectations: in the early 20th Century, the theory of subatomic waves conflicted with theory of subatomic particles, until the two were united in modern quantum theory. The conflict between thesis and antithesis is resolved in synthesis, as the Hegelian philosopher said to the actress.

When you first encounter some new conflict, it may seem at first that no good can come from it.  But it is important to recognize that conflict is not always a bad thing. Conflict can also be a source of passion, and a creative force for change. It can help to highlight common problems, and motivate people to solve them.

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies - Part 3 of 5 - Definition of Conflict

 

If you are trying to deal with some episode of conflict in your life, such as a dispute with people at your workplace, it can help to understand just what you are dealing with. So what is the definition of conflict?  Although there is no universal definition that can apply to all human conflicts, there is a common definition that is often used in the field of conflict resolution:

Conflict: a dispute or disagreement where different people feel that their wants, needs, interests or concerns are threatened.

In this definition, it is important to note that it is the threats that people feel - and not any actual threats they may face – which are important. Conflicts are distinguished from ordinary disputes because of the involvement of an emotional sense of threat.

 

Dictionary Definition of Conflict

The Medieval Latin roots of the word conflict (from com-, meaning “together”, and fligere, meaning “to strike”) express an idea of violence, like a collision or an attack. In later centuries the word acquired a further meaning: a psychological sense of incompatible ideas or urges within one person. Maybe you have experienced the feeling of being “at war with yourself” when faced with conflicting demands. The philosophical Prince of Denmark, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, famously compared his inner turmoil (about his famously dysfunctional family) to a battleground:

quote-william-shakespeare

Other Forms of Conflict

Conflict is often thought of as entirely negative, but modern dictionary definitions of conflict include many neutral ideas, and many quite positive ones. These include: creative and dramatic conflicts, logical and mathematical conflicts, constructive and orderly conflicts in philosophy, in sciences, in engineering, in communities, in politics, in businesses, and in markets. Conflicts occur in stock exchanges, and in the schedules of dinner parties. And all around us now, invisible electronic conflicts arise and are resolved – a thousand times a second – in computer software, internet transmissions, and cell-phone calls: “Know then, unnumbered spirits round thee fly, the light militia of the lower sky,” as the 18th Century writer Alexander Pope described an host of imagined spirits in his poem, The Rape of the Lock.

 

 “Good” and “Bad” Conflict

Conflict resolution experts say there are really two types of conflict. These are sometimes nicknamed “good conflict” and “bad conflict” but the formal terms are substantive conflict and affective conflict:

 

ñ     Substantive conflict: this so-called “good conflict” describes disagreements among members of a group about the tasks being performed by the group. For example, two people working together might disagree about the solutions to a common task or problem they face in their workplace.

ñ     Affective conflict: this so-called “bad conflict” describes problems that have nothing to do with the productive tasks of a group. These can be caused by problems in personal relationships, or conflicts driven mainly by emotions and frustrations.

With the right conflict resolution strategies, “good” or substantive conflict can often be managed and developed into “creative” conflict and yield positive results.  But “bad” or affective conflict is more likely to damage relationships between people and obstruct the productivity of a group. It often has a negative effect on the people involved.  Most conflict resolution strategies encourage people to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,” in the words of an old song. This does not mean ignoring affective problems, but it does mean putting the more effort into dealing with substantive problems.

 

Conflicts Are Seldom Simple

Unfortunately, most conflicts do not fall neatly into the categories of “good” and “bad,” but are driven by a mix of substantive and affective factors. This is especially true of complex conflicts that have grown to draw in many different people and issues. For example, a conflict between colleagues at work might start with a simple disagreement over effective work practices – a type of substantive conflict – but can then worsen and begin to involve emotional arguments and personal antagonism, which are forms of affective conflict. In such cases, you could consider preparing a conflict resolution model to help identify the substantive and affective factors of a conflict. You can learn more about conflict resolution models and other conflict resolution strategies in a later section of this page, “How to Resolve Conflict.”

 

Readmore about “What is Conflict” 

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies -  Conflict Theory

Q: How many Marxists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. The light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.

 

Karl Marx and Conflict Theory

The German philosopher Karl Marx pioneered the idea of “Conflict Theory” to explain the causes of changes in societies. Today there are many different conflict theories based on his original idea, although not all the modern theories agree with each other. A conflict theory is based on the principle that human societies are structured around fundamental conflicts, such as political or economic inequality. Marx was a severe and serious man, not known for his sense of humor, and probably would not have appreciated the light bulb joke.

Marx believed that the economic and political tensions in capitalist societies created a conflict between the working class and the “higher” – or more privileged – classes in society. He predicted that this conflict would be resolved by radical change – a revolution – in which the working class would seize power from the middle and upper classes. The ideas of Marx in the 19th Century had a lasting effect on political thought and theories of social conflict, and for a long time his writings directly influenced the governments of half the world.

 

Modern Conflict Theories

Since Marx, many different and sometimes competing conflict theories have been developed, but there is no agreement among social scientists on a universal theory of human conflict.  The term “conflict theory” is now used in modern social sciences to refer to historical explanations of the structure of human societies in terms of “power differentials.” Power differentials are inequalities between particular social groups or communities – such as the differences in income and political power between working-class people and their employers, or the differences in social and political power between different ethnic groups in a society.

As a social and political theory, conflict theories have little direct application to most common personal conflict or the process of resolving such conflicts.  However, power differentials and other forms of inequality certainly do exist, and they can have a real influence on personal conflicts. If you are attempting to resolve a conflict, it pays to be aware of such inequalities and how they may be influencing the people involved in the conflict. In industrial disputes, for example, any worker is likely to fear for their job if they become involved in a conflict with their employer.

 

Readmore about “ConflictTheory” 

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Part 3 of 5 – How to ResolveConflict

 

Maybe you have been involved in a dispute at work or at home that has developed into a conflict, and you want to find out how to resolve the conflict effectively. Or perhaps you want to learn more about the methods used to resolve and manage conflicts by conflict resolution professionals, such as arbitrators and mediators in industrial and legal disputes. This section looks at the basic ideas of conflict resolution, and introduces some basic conflict resolution techniques.

 

What Is Conflict Resolution?

So what is conflict resolution? The modern use of the term covers a range of methods, techniques and strategies to analyze conflicts and find an appropriate method of resolving them. Usually they focus on easing or eliminating sources of conflict, but that may not always be possible. The best possible result of conflict resolution will be to produce a “win-win” solution – one that satisfies, as much as possible, everyone involved in the conflict. Other possible – and less desirable – outcomes include “win-lose” and “lose-lose” solutions. We will take a closer look at these different types of resolution later in this section, under “Basic Conflict Resolution Strategies.”

 

Common Conflict Resolution Methods

Different resolution methods are better suited to different types of conflict. Some methods of conflict resolution simply won’t work for certain conflicts – you probably wouldn’t agree to negotiate if someone wanted to steal your car, for example. Some common conflict resolution methods include:

 

ñ     Negotiation: Discussions intended to produce an agreement between the people involved in a conflict.

ñ     Mediation: Negotiations conducted by an impartial third party – such as mediator, or arbitrator, in industrial disputes. Several non-governmental and commercial organizations also offer mediation and arbitration advice and assistance.

ñ     Litigation: The legal process in courts of law to establish a binding ruling on a conflict, or to determine and enforce legal rights. The term “conflict resolution” is now generally used to describe alternative forms of dispute resolution that do not include litigation.

ñ     Diplomacy: Negotiations between nations, usually under strict diplomatic protocols. In recent years many international conflict resolution agencies, such as the United Nations courts and tribunals, have played a prominent role in a number of international disputes.

Negotiation is generally seen as the best first option in conflict resolution. Mediation and litigation can be expensive and time consuming, and may not be appropriate for all conflicts. In many cases they may be necessary only if negotiation fails. Negotiation does not need to be formal: merely talking – and listening! – to someone with whom you have a conflict is a form of negotiation. Negotiation helps people gain a clearer understanding of a conflict from all sides. If negotiation does not produce direct results, the information gathered during the process of negotiation can aid other forms of conflict resolution.

 

Basic Conflict Resolution Strategies

In the 1970s, the researchers Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five basic styles of dealing with conflicts. Different people tend to deal with problems in characteristically different ways, and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, as it is known, can be used to categorize an individual’s dominant approach to conflicts. The Thomas-Kilmann categories also reflect five basic conflict resolution strategies, which range from a “win-win” resolution where everyone involved in a conflict is satisfied with the outcome, to “win-lose” where one party wins at the expense of the other party, to a “lose-lose” resolution where no-one is satisfied. Even the lose-lose result is a type of resolution – but it is usually not a very good one.

ñ     Accommodation: This involves giving up or surrendering your needs and concerns, to submit to the needs and concerns of other people involved in a conflict. This approach can be characterized as an “I lose, you win” solution.

ñ     Avoidance: This strategy tries to avoid or postpone conflict by ignoring it. Avoidance is a common technique to buy time in a conflict, or as a way of dealing with common minor conflicts, like disagreements between family members and friends. In severe cases avoidance can involve severing contact with other people in a conflict, such as when a family member leaves home, or when an employee resigns from their place of work. This approach can be characterized as an “I lose, you lose” solution – because nothing further can be done to resolve the conflict.

ñ     Collaboration: This involves the people involved in a conflict working together to find a solution that suits everyone. Although collaboration is generally the preferred method of conflict resolution, it can be time-consuming and may be inappropriate where there is insufficient trust or communication between the people involved in a conflict. This approach can be characterized as a potential “I win, you win” solution.

ñ     Compromis/emandIliad,pstrong e: This is where the people involved in a conflict each give up some of their demands so they can establish a functioning resolution. This can be characterized as an “I win some, you win some” approach. This process of compromise can be helped by the presence of an objective third-party, such as a professional mediator or arbitrator.

ñ     Competition: This is where when someone asserts their demands at the expense of everyone else involved in a conflict. This is an “I win, you lose” approach that is likely to disappoint at least one of the people involved, because (usually) only one side can win.

 

You might use insights from the Thomas-Kilmann categories to assess how a conflict is being approached by the different people involved. This may be able to help you to mitigate their approach, and to steer them in a generally cooperative direction. For example, people who are avoiding a conflict might be encouraged to learn that collaboration and compromise are possible. People who rely mainly on a competitive approach might be guided to adopt a more cooperative approach, in the interests of resolving the conflict and restoring harmony.

 

UnderstandingConflicts

The first step in any efforts at conflict resolution should be to gain an accurate and fair understanding of all the issues involved. This can be hard to do if you are one of the people caught up in the conflict. Often the true causes of a conflict are confused or clouded by the emotions and perceptions of the people involved. As much as possible, you should try to listen to all sides of a conflict with an open mind, and consider the situations of the other people involved. Simply making an effort to understand the position of each opposing side will go a long way towards resolving any conflict.

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Controlling Confusion

Sometimes people involved in a conflict may not have a clear idea about the issues. In some cases, none of the people involved will have a clear idea about the issues, but simply feel threatened in some way – which can make them respond in non-constructive ways, such as becoming frightened, upset or angry. Conflicts often involve emotions and misunderstandings that can make disagreements worse. There may also be confusion about just who is involved in a conflict. Some people may not even know they are involved, while others may feel wronged because their interests are being left out in a dispute. People who were not involved at first can be drawn in to “take sides” in a conflict.

 

In such cases it can help to speak to as many people involved in the conflict as possible, to ask how they understand the issues at the heart of the conflict. People who do not appear to be directly involved but whose interest may be affected should also be considered.  It can be especially revealing to people how they think the conflict can be resolved – their answers can shed light on what they think are the really important issues, as well as lead to potential solutions.

 

 Real and Perceived Threats

The people involved in a conflict respond to the threats that they perceive, rather than any real threats they may face. These perceptions may be based on incomplete or poor information, but they can still have a strong influence. These are important points to recognize, for they can mean that people may be fighting about things that are not even real – and surprisingly this is often the case. People may also not clearly understand what they really want to achieve in the resolution of the conflict. In some cases a narrow dispute might be blamed as the main cause, but the conflict might really involve more complex issues that are not obvious at first.

When attempting to resolve a conflict, keep these matters in mind and try to be sensitive to any issues that may not be immediately apparent. Once again, effective communications are usually the most important factor in resolving any conflict. The more information that people have about the real issues, the less likely it is that they will be confused about any real or perceived threats.

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Analyzing Conflicts

Accurately identifying the true matters of disagreement in a conflict will help determine the most appropriate methods of conflict resolution. The process of understanding a conflict usually begins with talking to the people involved in the conflict, and listening carefully to their perceptions of its causes. It is also important to ask how the people involved propose that the conflict should be resolved, as this can indicate their perceptions and expectations of the conflict. In many cases, a conflict resolution model  may be able to help to identify the driving factors in a conflict.

Cultures and Conflicts

The appropriate resolution of a conflict can also depend on the social culture of the people involved. A confrontational “cards-on-the-table” approach that works in a Wall Street corporate boardroom may be counterproductive in a Chinese village, where a direct confrontation is likely to be interpreted as deliberate rudeness. Intercultural conflicts can be the most difficult to resolve. Each group of people involved may have very different perceptions of a dispute, and cultural differences can create misunderstandings during a conflict resolution process. People tend to become ‘blinded’ by the culture they have been brought up in and think that their particular culture is the “right way,” while any other way of believing, thinking, feeling and acting must be a “wrong way.” If you view your world only through a pair of “culturally colored sunglasses,” so to speak, it can be hard to even notice that you are wearing them – or to accept that other people are wearing “sunglasses” colored by a different culture.

 

Conflict Resolution and Animal Behavior

But despite surface cultural differences, some instinctive conflict resolution skills seem to be hardwired into humans. All other mammals and many non-mammal species show signs of instinctive behavior related to conflict resolution – such as a baby’s smile, a cat’s sudden switch from an aggressive stance to purring, and a dog wagging his tail. Researchers have studied dolphins, snakes and elephants, apes and monkeys to learn more about their methods of conflict resolution and how they may relate to human behavior. The studies indicate that aggressive conflict is more common among individual animals that are related by family bonds, and more likely within a group of animals than between groups.

 

Conflict Resolution and Primate Behavior

Apes and monkeys – primates, like humans – showed a distinct common behavior: instead of putting distance between two individuals in conflict, the primates would soon try to make intimate contact, such as by grooming or by bringing gifts of food. Greater efforts at reconciliation are usually made between members of a family group. These rudimentary methods of conflict resolution are likely to have evolved to match the varying social structures of animals and humans. Several researchers have studied communities of wild macaque monkeys for insights into human conflict resolution. Macaques have complex social structures that show some similarities to human societies, and the researchers believe their studies can shed light on the evolution of human conflict behaviors and conflict resolution.

 

Researchers believe that conflict and reconciliation form part of the collective decision-making process of a macaque social group. Reconciliation seems to act as a check on the aggressive behavior that macaques show when they engage in conflict, and helps prevent damage to the social relationships of the group. In effect, conflict and reconciliation between macaques – and perhaps, too, between people – serves the important function of helping their social group to make decisions – about which macaque is the boss, or which macaques get the banana, for example (macaques, despite their similarities to people – or perhaps in just the same way as people – are simple creatures.)  Macaques, in other words, naturally use conflict and reconciliation as a form of “conflict management” – which is a topic we will look at later on this page.

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Conflict Resolution Models

 

Conflicts can be confusing, especially if you are caught up in a conflict yourself and trying to work it out. Using a conflict resolution model may be able to help clarify which issues in a conflict are the most important, and help you decide which methods of resolution method will be the most effective. A conflict resolution model is a framework for identifying the factors that are creating or driving a conflict, often presented as a diagram or chart. By identifying the driving factors, conflict resolution models can help you to identify the substantive and affective components of a conflict.

 

Using Conflict Resolution Models

There is no “one size fits all” model, and conflict resolution models are adapted for each particular conflict. They range from simple models designed to aid the resolution of small-scale conflicts – such as between colleagues in workplaces, or within families – to formal and complex models used by professionals working on intractable conflicts, such as those that result in ethnic violence and wars.  In general, conflict resolution experts recommend that efforts should address the substantive factors as the focus for negotiations – because these factors are the ones that people have the most control over, and so they are more likely to produce positive results. Affective factors should not be ignored, but a conflict resolution model can help identify the substantive factors that will be the most profitable areas to focus on.

 

You can read more about conflict resolution models, as well as see some examples of simple conflict resolution models, on the “How to Resolve Conflict” page.

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Part 4 of 5 – Conflict in the Workplace

Many people have experienced some sort of conflict in their workplace – such as a simmering dispute with a co-worker or their employer. Conflict is common in workplaces, and usually it is the task of a workplace manager to deal with it. Good communications in the workplace are important to prevent conflicts and to ensure they can be dealt with effectively when they happen – as they surely will at some time.

 

 Conflict Can Be Expected In Any Workplace

Conflict in the workplace is especially likely on important or complex projects, and in large teams where many people with different approaches and personalities come into contact. Conflict in the workplace can come from substantive issues related to the tasks carried out by a group (so-called “good” conflict), and from affective factors such as personal disputes between colleagues (so-called “bad” conflict). The unequal relationships in a workplace – such as those between an employee and an employer, or a customer and a client – can be further sources of conflict. Every person also encounters conflicts outside the workplace, such as among their families or friends, and these can affect their behavior and productivity in the workplace.

 

The Responsibilities of Workplace Managers

In many workplaces the first responsibility for dealing with any conflict falls to the manager of a team or group. Workplace conflict resolution and conflict management are usually key concerns for managers – in fact, they should be one of the primary concerns. Unresolved conflict in the workplace can damage the productivity of a work team, and affect the performance of their larger organizations. According to an estimate by the researchers Stephanie Reynolds and Eryn Kalish, most managers spend at least a quarter of their time resolving workplace conflicts. Conflict resolution skills are therefore vital for workplace managers, so that they can deal effectively with the inevitable disputes that will arise.

 

The Importance of Good Workplace Communications

Many studies on workplace conflict resolution have stressed the importance of effective communications. Poor workplace communications are often the source of conflicts, and better communications are usually part of the solution. Good communications between employees can help prevent simple disputes escalating into conflicts that require the attention of a manager.

 

Dealing With Conflict in the Workplace

If you find yourself involved in a conflict in the workplace, or in a position to mediate in a workplace conflict, your first step should be to try to talk to all the people involved. Talking through a problem is almost always the first step in finding an appropriate resolution. If you are an employee, it may be useful to speak to your manager to see if they are aware of the conflict and if they have any useful input. Most effective managers will welcome the opportunity to learn more about a conflict before it becomes serious and disruptive.

 

 Conflict with Managers

Unfortunately it not uncommon for managers themselves to be involved in conflicts in the workplace. This can create an unequal conflict, given the obvious power differential between an employee and their manager. In such cases you may be able to find other colleagues who can help, or approach people in the organization with higher authority than your manager, such as the human resources executives in your workplace. Trade unions and professional associations may also have a role in dealing with workplace conflicts. Serious cases of conflict in the workplace may need to be addressed with the aid of professionals who work in mediation and arbitration. You can read more about these services under “Conflict Resolution Training”  on this page.

 

How to Manage Conflict

In some businesses – including many major international corporations, such as Microsoft – certain types of conflict may actually be encouraged. The field of conflict management tries to accentuate positive outcomes and eliminate negative outcomes of conflict in workplaces. Managers who use conflict management techniques hope to encourage the “good” types of conflict that can produce new ideas and drive creative thinking. Although the terms conflict resolution and conflict management are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a key difference: conflict resolution aims to reduce or eliminate any conflict as much as possible, but conflict management recognizes that some types of conflict can be beneficial under controlled and appropriate circumstances.

 

Managing “Good” and “Bad” Conflict

Conflict management strategies try to limit the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects. In general, conflict management tries to create a moderate level of substantive conflict (“good” conflict), and to reduce affective conflict (“bad” conflict) in a dispute. Conflict management stresses positive group outcomes, and what the group can learn from the conflict as it develops.  Conflict management is a particular concern for the managers and leaders of organizations, such as businesses or political groups, and many business schools and universities conduct programs of conflict management training.

 

Risks from Conflict Management

Any program of conflict management in a workplace needs to be carefully prepared and monitored. A certain amount of skill and knowledge is necessary to prevent “good” conflicts sparking “bad” conflicts. In particular, the aims of any conflict management program should be discussed with the employees who will be affected by it. Some people in a workplace may be uncomfortable with any sort of conflict and may resent a system designed to actively create conflicts, even the “good” kind.

 

Read more about Conflict in the Workplace” 

 

  

Conflict Resolution Strategies – Part 5 of 5 – Conflict Resolution Training

 

Like many people, you may have been involved in a conflict that ended badly, and you realized later that you probably could have handled it better. Conflict Resolution is a growing field of study and practice, and there are now many educational and training opportunities for individuals who want to learn conflict resolution skills. Conflict resolution training may be able to help you deal with conflicts in your personal life and career, or it might form the basis of a career as a conflict resolution professional.

 

Conflict Resolution Education

Many universities and colleges in theUnited States,Europeand elsewhere offer advanced programs in conflict resolution education, and many organizations specialize in conflict resolution training and offer conflict resolution services, such as arbitration and mediation. In theUnited States, one of the foremost organizations in this field is the Association for Conflict Resolution, a professional group for conflict resolution practitioners such as mediators, arbitrators and academics.

 

Conflict Resolution Professionals

Conflict resolution professionals are nowadays often involved in common legal and community issues, such as divorce settlements and employment disputes. Conflict resolution professionals also play an increasingly prominent role in international diplomatic and commercial disputes, and in the work of major relief and development organizations operating in conflict zones around the world.

 

Peace and Conflict Studies

The academic field of “peace and conflict studies” analyzes non-violent and social conflicts in the hope that a clear understanding of such conflicts will aid their effective resolution. The related field of “peace studies” aims to prevent or resolve violent conflicts by peaceful means – hopefully, by finding a sort of “victory” for both sides in a conflict. Peace studies can be contrasted with the mainly military concern of “war studies,” which looks at the resolution of armed conflicts by violent means – usually to the satisfaction of the victorious parties alone.

 

Applications of Conflict Resolution Training

Because human conflict is an evolved expression of human behavior, the conflict resolution skills provided by formal training can prove effective in almost every theater of human activity. Conflict resolution skills are not just limited to dealing with conflicts in the law, politics, and commerce – but also conflicts in schools, conflicts in families, and conflicts in communities.

 

If you’d like to know more about conflict resolution training, you could start by contacting your local college, adult education center, or university to inquire if they run such programs or are aware of anyone who does.  Try an online search or look in your local phone directories for conflict resolution specialists and training institutions that might be able to provide more information. In some countries your local job center may be able to provide with training, or put you in touch with people in the field who may be able to help. In many countries, professional groups – such as the Association for Conflict Resolution in theUS- maintain directories of conflict resolution professionals and training courses.

 

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