Conflict is defined as “direct opposition, a clash or disagreement between people. “
So often you hear “As long as you have people dealing with people, making decisions or meeting deadlines – you will have conflict.” Don’t you?
A conflict is more than a mere disagreement – it is a situation in which people perceive a threat (physical, emotional, power, status, etc.) to their well-being. As such, it is a meaningful experience in people’s lives, not to be shrugged off by a mere, “it will pass…”
Conflict invokes strong stress responses. We experience emotional responses, ranging from anger and fear to despair and confusion. These responses can be misunderstood, as individuals can assume that others feel the same as they do. Consequently, different emotive reactions can be unclear and, at times, aggressive.
Participants in conflict have a tendency to respond based on their perceptions of a situation, rather than an objective review of it. People filter their observations (and responses) through their values, culture, beliefs, information, experience, gender, and other variables. Conflict responses are both filled with thoughts and outlooks that can be very strong and dominant guides to our logic on any possible solution.
As in any problem, conflicts contain functional, technical, and emotional dimensions to be negotiated. In order to best comprehend the issues from the inside by those engaged in a conflict, consideration from all perspectives needs to occur.
Conflicts are regular experiences in the work situation. They are also, to a large degree, predictable and expected situations that logically arise as we go about working through complex and demanding projects in which we significantly invested time and effort. As such, if we develop processes for recognising conflicts that are likely to occur, as well as systems through which we can productively manage these; we create a new opportunity to transform conflict into a productive learning experience.
Taking a resourceful problem-solving approach is essential to positive conflict management. Transforming the situation from one in which it is ‘my way or the highway’ into one in which we entertain new prospects that have been otherwise indescribable.
Conflict can be needed; it can:
1. Help to confront and address problems.
2. Motivate work to be on the most appropriate issues.
3. Support people to “be real”, for example, it can motivate them to contribute.
4. Help people learn how to identify and value from their differences. Conflict is not the same as distress. The conflict isn’t the problem – it is when conflict is poorly managed that is the problem.
Conflict is a problem when it:
1. Hinders productivity.
2. Lowers confidence.
3. Causes more and continued conflicts.
4. Causes inappropriate behaviours.
How do we respond to conflict?
In addition to the interactive responses summarised by the countless conflict styles, we have emotional, cognitive and physical responses to conflict. These are central openings into our understanding during conflict, they frequently tell us more about what is the real cause of threat that we perceive.
By understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict, we can get improved understanding into the best solution/s to a situation.
Next edition- Insight in our responses and self-talk.
How can we help-
On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.