Conflicts are part of nature and certainly part of human relations, between individuals, as well as within and between groups. Conflicts occur in every domain of life: family, work, and society, local and global. Conflict management, therefore, is an essential competency for each person.
People differ largely in their emotional and behavioral responses to conflict and need to learn how to behave effectively in different conflict situations. This requires a contingency approach, first assessing the conflict situation, and then choosing a strategy, matching the goals of the party. In most situations, fostering cooperative relations will be most beneficial; however, this is also most challenging. Therefore, constructive conflict management strategies, including trust building and methods of constructive controversy, are emphasised.
Conflict management, however, is broader than the interaction of the conflicting parties. Third-party interventions are an essential element of constructive conflict management, particularly the assessment of which parties are intervening in what ways at what escalation stage.
A common definition of conflict argues that there is a conflict between two (or more) parties (individuals or groups) if at least one of them is offended, or feels bothered by the other. Traditionally, conflict has been defined as opposing interests involving scarce resources and goal divergence and frustration. However, Deutsc defined conflict as incompatible activities: one person's actions interfere, obstruct, or in some way get in the way of another's action.
Wan, and Tang proposed that defining conflict as incompatible actions is a much stronger foundation than defining conflict as opposing interests, because conflicts also can occur when people have common goals (i.e., they may disagree about the best means to achieve their common goals). The key contribution of Deutsch’s proposal is that incompatible activities occur in both compatible and incompatible goal contexts. Whether the protagonists believe their goals are cooperative or competitive very much affects their expectations, interaction, and outcomes as they approach conflict.
Conflict implies dependence and interdependence. Parties rely to some extent on the other parties to realize their goals. This interdependence can be positive (a cooperative context), negative (a competitive context), or mixed. Positive interdependence is strongly related to cooperative conflict behaviors, while negative interdependence triggers competitive behaviors.
Interdependence also reflects the power difference between parties. A short-term contractor on a low-paid job usually is much more dependent on the employer than vice versa. Many conflicts, however, can be seen as “mixed motive” situations. Conflicts are mostly mixed motive situations because parties have simultaneous motives to cooperate and motives to compete.
Parties are, on the one hand, dependent on each other to realize their goal, and, on the other hand, they are at the same time competitors. For example, two colleagues on a team are cooperating for the same team result; however, there is competition for the role as project leader. In a soccer team, the players have a team goal of working together to win, but they can be competing to be the top scorer.
The mixed motive structure is very important to understand conflict dynamics. When conflicts arise, the competitive aspects become more salient, and the cooperative structure often is perceived less by parties. Interventions to solve conflict, therefore, are often related to these perceptions and the underlying structures.
Conflict is a psychological experience. Conflict is by definition a personal and subjective experience, as each individual can perceive and manage the same conflict in a different manner. Conflict doesn’t necessarily have an objective basis. It depends on the perception of the specific situation, and the perception is by definition subjective and personal. Conflict concerns cognitive and affective tension. When someone perceives blocked goals and disagreements, he or she can also, although not necessarily, feel fear or anger.
Many authors consider that conflict is emotionally charged although the emotion doesn’t need to be labeled necessarily as a negative emotion. Some people actually enjoy conflict. Emotional experiences in conflict are also scripted by cultural, historical, and personal influences.
Conflict can be unidirectional. One party can feel frustrated or thwarted by the other while the second party is hardly aware of, and doesn’t perceive the same reality of, the conflict. Conflict is a process. Conflict is a dynamic process that does not appear suddenly, but takes some time to develop and passes through several stages). Conflict is the process resulting from the tension in interpersonal interactions or between team members because of real or perceived differences.
Conflict management is an umbrella term for the way we identify and handle conflicts fairly and efficiently. The goal is to minimize the potential negative impacts that can arise from disagreements and increase the odds of a positive outcome. At home or work, disagreements can be unpleasant and not every dispute calls for the same response. Learn to choose the right conflict management style, and you'll be better able to respond constructively whenever disputes arise.
Conflict management refers to the way that you handle disagreements. On any given day, you may have to deal with a dispute between you and another individual, your family members, or fellow employees.
Conflict management is deliberate action to deal with conflictive situations, either to prevent or to escalate them. Unlike conflict behavior, conflict management encompasses cognitive responses to conflict situations, which can vary from highly competitive to highly cooperative.
Conflict management does not necessarily involve avoidance, reduction, or termination of conflict. It involves designing effective strategies to minimise the dysfunctions of conflict and to enhance the constructive functions of conflict in order to improve team and organisational effectiveness. Conflicts are not necessarily conflict resolution processes aimed at ending a conflict. So, while conflict management can also include escalation, conflict resolution searches for a way of ending the conflict. The difference between resolution and management of conflict is more than semantic).
Conflict resolution means reduction, elimination, or termination of conflict. To find a resolution, parties have to bring an extra piece of information, relate the information they have differently, or transform the issue, change the rules, change the actors or the structure, or bring in a third party). The most popular conflict resolution processes are: negotiation, mediation, conflict coaching, and arbitration).
Conflict resolution can also be accomplished by ruling by authorities. Integration of the different techniques sequentially or simultaneously has been shown to support optimal conflict resolution.
The strategies of negotiation, mediation, conflict coaching, and arbitration have in common that the parties together decide about the conflict process, even when they agree to accept an arbitration. This is different from how authorities resolve conflict. Decision making by authorities varies from parents’ intervening in children’s fights to rulings by teachers, police officers, managers, complaint officers, ombudsmen, and judges. Here, often one party complains and the authority acts to intervene and end the conflict. This strategy is good for ending physical violence and misuse of power.
However, the authorities’ decisive power is limited, and therefore in most situations authorities are strongly urged to first explore the potential for conflict resolution and reconciliation among the parties involved. The authority can act as an escalator for the process, or as a facilitator, and only in cases of immediate threat can intervene or rule as a last resort. Authorities who employ this strategy can improve the learning skills of the parties and can impose upon the parties an acceptance of responsibility, both for the conflict and for the ways to end it.
It is important to emphasize the natural and positive aspects of conflict management. Conflict occurs in all areas of organisations and private lives and its management is vital for their effectiveness. Through conflict, conventional thinking is challenged, threats and opportunities are identified, and new solutions are forged. Therefore, when conflict occurs, it shouldn’t be avoided but should be managed constructively.
(The views expressed are personal)