By Rich Drinon, M.A.
Positive conflict can generate a creative or competitive tension that makes an organization dynamic. Conflict can also be negative. When the competition between parties turns to fighting, or tension reaches the breaking point, people and organizations can be damaged.
Sources of Conflict
In any area where there is a difference, there is potential for disagreement. Areas of potential conflict that impact people universally are: gender, age, nationality, territory, cultural background, ideology, power, resources, priorities and personality—to name a few.
Conflict Behaviors & Communication
How you express yourself in any given situation has a lot to do with arriving at a favorable post-conflict outcome. Some individuals, in the throes of conflict, communicate passively and others aggressively. If you choose to address conflict with another person, or between two parties, it’s essential to communicate in a manner most fitting for the particular point of contention. Assertive communication usually—but not always—fulfills this need.
Allows others to choose when, where and what will happen.
Avoids saying what he or she wants or feels.
Manipulates through a "poor me" attitude.
Cowers in posture, voice and manner.
Sets up "win-lose" situations rather than negotiating.
Listens little or only to what he or she wants to hear.
Manipulates or threatens through aggressive posture, voice and manner.
Uses active listening to find a "win-win" solution.
Negotiates clearly and directly for what is wanted.
Keeps communication short and simple.
Calmly repeats appropriate requests.
Practicing Conflict Resolution
In addition to recognizing conflict sources and the need for assertiveness, one must consider possible outcomes of any given conflict. Those outcomes include:
When taking aim at a “desirable” outcome, one must consider the situation. Although a Win/Win outcome sounds ideal, this scenario is hard to achieve unless both parties make that end result their goal. If one party is determined to defeat the other, due to competition or hostility, one may have to take a Lose/Win approach. And, while compromise may sometimes be the best choice for both parties, there are also times when both parties choose to risk all and arrive at a Lose/Lose outcome.
Using a Mediator
In order to facilitate a joint problem-solving meeting, parties can call upon the expertise of a mediator. A mediator is generally considered objective, responsible and acceptable to both parties. He or she must be detached from the conflict, understand the positions of both parties and be skilled with both problems and people. A mediator must be able to lead both parties in dialogue and discussion while working to develop cooperation between parties and creating a common vision. Often, a group’s leader or manager finds him or her self-serving as mediator in situations calling for conflict resolution.
Promoting Common Vision & Practicing Joint Problem Solving
A common vision is an overriding target that both groups accept as essential and achievable. This vision moves the parties from Lose/Lose or Win/Lose to Win/Win. The joint problem-solving approach moves participants to a higher order, an inclusive vision that answers the question, “How do we both get what we want?”
Joint problem solving presents an ideal at which to take aim. With joint problem solving both parties accept that they both have a problem and recognize they are both losing. This approach takes a future focus while looking for a creative solution and agreed criteria for success. Developing a common vision through the use of a mediator and joint problem solving helps parties must reach a basis for reconciliation that includes fairness, mutual respect and consensus.