When you think of the word “conflict,” do you picture people yelling, fists thumping on tables, icy stares and crossed arms or constructive healthy discussion, collaborative dialogue and brainstorming?

Some Oxford dictionary definitions of the word “conflict” are:

  • a state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs: bewildered by her own inner conflict, she could only stand there feeling vulnerable.
  • a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests: there was a conflict between his business and domestic life.
  • a prolonged armed struggle: regional conflicts.
  • the pursuit of incompatible goals, such that gains to one side come about at the expense of the other.
Conflict can be the pursuit of incompatible goals.
Conflict can be the pursuit of incompatible goals.

Conflict is generally viewed as negative, having discord, disharmony, and hostility.

Inevitably, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose — the ‘classic’ win/lose scenario.

Is all conflict bad? There is no doubt that conflict is often difficult, but it can lead to growth and change, which is good.  Isn’t that right?

No one likes discomfort, but it can often wake you up and motivate you to respond. If you pour boiling water on your hand, but fail to react by quickly pulling your hand away, you would get burned.

“On the surface, humans appear to hate conflict, but in reality, they seek it.” ― Nagaru Tanigawa

A level of organisational conflict is often desired — it’s not always dysfunctional. When conflict exists, it generally indicates commitment to organisational goals, because the employees are trying to come up with the best solution. This in turn promotes challenge, intensifies separate concern to the issues, and raises determination. This type of conflict is necessary. Without it, the organisation  would simply deteriorate.

When conflict does occur, the results may be positive or negative, depending upon how those involved choose to approach it.

It all depends upon how those involved choose to approach it.
It all depends upon how those involved choose to approach it.

If you can approach conflict positively, it can:
• Improve the quality of results.
• Motivate participation in the discussion.
• Stimulate inspiration and imagination.
• Enable employee development.
• Intensify movement toward goals.
• Generate active climate.
• Form more interaction and unity among teams.
• Foster new ideas, options, and solutions.
• Test situations and principles.

OR

If conflict is approached negatively, it can:
• Be unhelpful and overpowering.
• Generate unproductive working groups.
• Cause efficiency to suffer.
• Decrease the brainstorm of ideas and evidence.
• Cultivate hostilities.
• Break down dialogue.
• Reduce trust and support.

A good dispute could be an antidote to indifference.
A good dispute could be an antidote to indifference.

Positive conflict

Positive conflict is very useful in group negotiations. When faced with a conflict, most healthy groups will look for more information to resolve it. Because the disagreement was articulated, a more systematic exploration will be conducted. When the group comes to a conclusive decision, it will be based on supplementary information that possibly wouldn’t have been acquired had the conflict not occurred.

Even though some of the feelings caused by conflict may be negative, disagreement indicates involvement in the discussion. A good dispute may be an actual antidote to indifference! Just like the old expression, “Let’s argue so we can make up.”

So how can you make conflict constructive within your group?

When resolving conflicts, focus on finding ways that will permit all individuals to “win.” Usually, conflict results in one side “winning” at a cost to another. Conflict becomes harmful when it is side-stepped or approached on a win/lose basis, where one side is the winner and one is the loser. Your responsibility as a leader or team member is to safeguard that this situation doesn’t occur, because it has negative effects for both the winner and loser.

Winners and losers.

The winner often becomes self-satisfied, casual, and playful (the “fat and happy” state). The winning group develops a low concern for work and task accomplishment. The winner feels that winning has confirmed the negative categorisation of the “enemy” group. There is no inspiration to learn how to progress intergroup processes.

The loser is not always persuaded that they lost, and tension will become higher than before the conflict. The loser tries to find someone or something at fault and often distorts the reality of losing. Losers may say, “The boss didn’t appreciate our solution.” The losing group tends to fragment and unsettled conflict surfaces.

However, the losing group is more ready to work harder than the winning team and tends to learn a lot about itself. Once the loss is accepted, the losers may become more cohesive and effective.

Someone does not have to win or lose! Groups must collaborate and work together to be operative. This type of group behaviour is known as integrative. A group should try to integrate individual goals into the group goal by following these guidelines:
1. Attempt to pursue a common goal rather than individual goals.
2. Openly and honestly communicate with other people.
3. Do not control or influence others.
4. Do not use threats or bluffs to achieve goals.
5. Try to understand personal needs and the needs of others correctly.
6. Appraise ideas and suggestions on their own merits.
7. Attempt to find solutions to problems.
8. Strive for group cohesiveness.

So if one of your peers calls you an “idiot” during a heated meeting, how would you react?

If a high level of individual and group trust exists, and you don’t take the remark personally, the group can grow through the hostility. Group members learn that they can confront even temperament clashes and work together as a group to solve them. The group that fights together stays together.

Conflict should be managed, however, before it degenerates to verbal attack and irreversible damage to individual egos. But mindful efforts on your part to avoid difference may produce feelings of tension and anxiety as you try to watch what you say. Carefully wording accounts to avoid conflict restrains group contribution and results in frustration. As group members tend to edit their thoughts before communicating with others, the feeling of group unity is adversely affected.

The solution: Talk more, not less.

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.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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