This topic is related to the earlier topics of negotiation, coping with emotion and stress, and interpersonal relations. We have already stated that conflicts are common in the life of every human being. Here, we look at how people can resolve conflicts as they arise. First, we will look at the definition of conflict, followed by its causes and consequences. We will also identify the types of conflicts and ways of dealing with such conflicts. This lesson will also highlight the skills needed to manage conflicts effectively.
Definition of Conflict
Cambridge Dictionary defines conflict as “an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.” It can also be considered as an escalated argument or disagreement about an important issue between two or more people. Another definition of conflict is the clash of interest between two or more parties.
Conflict can be personal, racial, political, or class. Interactions between members of a group may cause conflicts along certain lines, dividing the group into factions according to their differences in opinion.
Causes of Conflict
Conflicts often occur at home, school or work, and they take many different forms. In a multicultural work environment, for example, people may have diverse views based on their geographical backgrounds, social classes, language, age, or culture. When working with other people, you should always take great care when managing conflicts which are bound to interfere with teamwork. The first and most important step of conflict resolution and management is to identify the sources of conflicts.
Here we have identified several causes of conflict:
- Ambiguous and/or missing information: During communication, some information may be incomplete or ambiguous, causing misrepresentation, misunderstanding, and conflict.
- Selfishness of an individual who attempts to maximize their own interest without concern for the interests of others. This prevents, blocks, or interferes with the actions of others.
- Uncertainties, scarcity of resources, and unlimited human wants. Sometimes people disagree as they pursue resources during times of uncertainty.
- Differences in personalities of individuals: people may disagree as a result of differences in personality and character traits. People have different perceptions and expectations based on their individual attitudes and interests.
- Discrimination: some forms of discrimination such as discrimination against women, racial discrimination, and ethnic disparities may lead to conflict among various groups. For instance, there is conflict between some whites and blacks in western countries due to racial discrimination in society. Conflict between the rich and the poor is also caused by disparities in resource allocation.
- Lack of cooperation: a toxic organizational environment where people don’t comply with the rules may lead to lack of cooperation and conflicts.
- Autocratic management styles: autocracy occurs when the top leaders in society, institutions or organizations enforce decisions, rules and policies without consulting their followers. If the followers don’t agree with such autocratic decisions, conflicts usually ensue.
- Disruptions of workflow, work schedule, and routine tasks in the workplace may cause conflicts among conflicts or between workers and supervisors.
Consequences of Conflicts
Conflicts occur in circumstances where the goals and interests of people are not compatible, and one party or group blocks others from achieving their goals.
Conflict is inevitable in the workplace, at least to some level, because the society or organization has multiple overarching goals and interests.
Some conflicts are good because they push people to improve their performance. Nevertheless, too much conflict may become a hindrance to work and relationships.
There are both positive and negative effects of conflict in society or in the workplace. Positive conflict is referred to as functional conflict while negative conflict is called dysfunctional conflict.
Positive Consequences of Conflict:
The positive consequences of functional conflict include:
- Increased cohesion: Cohesiveness occurs when different groups with competing interests work together. They can bring in their conflicting ideas and interests, and use them positively to achieve common goals.
- Improved quality of decisions: in situations of conflicts, individuals usually try to come up with solutions to their problems. Groups that face conflicts can come together and evaluate alternative courses of action, which can bring more ideas to enhance better decisions, creativity, and innovation.
- Development of Leadership Qualities: when conflicts occur, people engage in discussions and negotiations to find resolutions. In the process, leaders emerge who can effectively lead the team in making decisions to end the conflict.
- Promoting change: Conflict can enhance change. Differences in opinions and beliefs may cause discussions that end up causing creative ideas and new ways of doing things. The new ideas can be an epitome of change, or a shift away from the traditional and conventional order.
- Increased Productivity: it has been established through research that teams with manageable levels of conflicts can produce high quality solutions to problems. When individuals are in conflict, they work harder to find solutions, which often lead to improved performance and productivity.
- Reduces strain: when people don’t agree with each other in terms of norms and values, they can raise their voice and opinions about the issue. As a result, they release some strain that could have otherwise caused stress.
Negative Consequences of Conflicts
If not managed effectively, conflicts may escalate to unmanageable levels, leading to negative conflicts. When people disrespect each other and undermine the interests of others, they cause negative conflicts. The effects of negative conflicts include:
- Mental strain: Excessive conflict may cause tension and frustration among the conflicting parties. This harms both the individual and the group.
- Dissatisfaction: too much conflicts may cause antagonism on some members of the group, leading to loss of motivation. People also become discontented when they are unable to come into agreement on pertinent issues affective them. They then become dissatisfied with their jobs, leading to reduced individual organizational performance.
- Miscommunication: When conflicts occur, people may not speak to each other. Such communication breakdown may cause poor or limited interactions in the workplace. The consequence of poor communication is reduced performance as people stop focusing on common goals and objectives.
- Resignation: People may resign from job or from their social duties if they are not able to agree with the people they work with. For example, if a teacher does not agree on anything with the students, they can become so frustrated that they can quit their job.
- Misperceptions: The perceptions and beliefs of individuals may be distorted by serious conflicts.
- Unhealthy Competition: escalated conflicts can cause heated competition among members of a group. Such competition may hinder progress waste time as people try to resolve the conflict. Competition may also prevent the group from achieving common goals and objectives.
- Dropping out of School: conflicts can cause a student to be frustrated, lose self-esteem, and possibly drop out of school.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse: people who are not able to cope with the stress associated with conflicts may also engage in drug and alcohol abuse as they try to forget the situation of conflict.
- Committing Suicide: Those who are not able to cope with conflicts may also commit suicide.
Types of Conflict
There are generally two types of conflicts: intragroup conflict and interpersonal conflict. The intragroup conflict occurs when a member of group disagrees with the rest of the team. On the other hand an interpersonal conflict occurs when two people disagree. Other specific types of conflict include:
- Destructive Conflicts: This refers to escalated or unmanaged conflict that has gone out of control. It can jeopardize relationships and social interactions.
- Constructive conflict: This type of conflict refers to managed struggles that leads to changes in human relationships, but does not destroy the relationships.
- Content conflict: conflict that occurs when people disagree on how to address an issue. This is constructive conflict because it motivates people to discuss and generate new ideas and solutions.
- Relationship Conflict: Disagreements between individuals, also known as relational conflicts. They can reduce performance, satisfaction, commitment and loyalty.
- Process Conflict: this occurs when people disagree on how to perform a task – disagreement on methods and process of doing a job. Process conflict can be harmful because it interferes with the job, which might not be completed or can be completed in a substandard way.
- Affective Conflict: This type of conflict occurs as a result of interpersonal differences and disputes. It leads to suspicion, hostility, and distrust. Thus, it is deconstructive or negative type of conflict.
- Cognitive conflict: It occurs when people disagree in terms of judgment or perspectives when performing a task. This is a positive or constructive conflict which leads to improved decision making and free exchange of information.
Ways of Dealing with Conflict
There are various methods of addressing conflicts before they escalate to unmanageable levels. The three common methods are:
Fight: In this method, people engage aggressively with each other. This can be done through words, litigation, or physical assault. It is a war where there is always no winner or loser. Flight is one of the most damaging responses to conflict. Literally speaking, the person who suffers the most injuries is the loser; but the fight does not solve the underlying issues of the conflict.
Flight: in this approach, conflicting parties walk away from the conflict. One of the actions of people who choose flight is denying everything. In this case, the individual decides to ignore the conflict as if it never existed. On the other hand, running away occurs when one of the conflicting parties avoids the other person and does not want to engage in discussions. This is damaging because the individual may not report to work as he or she tries to avoid seeing their opponents.
Freeze: This reaction method entails doing nothing at all. They neither run away nor fight. In this situation, individuals merely choose to disengage in order to please their opponents. This may look like a solution at first, but the conflict remains unresolved and will continue causing dissatisfaction and discomfort.
Other Methods of Resolving Conflicts:
- Appreciate and accept that a conflict exists which needs to be addressed
- Identify the sources of conflicts
- Evaluate the role of each individual in the conflict – how each party contributes to the conflict and their role in resolving it.
- Being empathetic and having the willingness and commitment to listen to the concerns of the other party.
- Be ready to accept and apologize when you are wrong.
- Develop good communication, problem solving and decision making skills.
Skills Necessary for Conflict Resolution
- Empathy: the ability to understand and appreciate the needs of other people, and putting yourself on the shoes of the other person.
- Seeking Assistance: being able to talk with people about your problems and seeking their help.
- Decision Making: The ability to take appropriate action given alternative courses of action.
- Critical Thinking: this is another important skill in conflict resolution. It entails being able to analyze and evaluate issues objectively to arrive at judgment. This is necessary in order to develop objective solution to the conflict.
- Assertiveness: individuals should be assertive when discussing a conflicting situation so that they can clearly articulate their goals and interests.
Institutions that Resolve Conflicts in Society:
- Courts: Places where legal processes of resolving conflicts occur. It is taken as the last resort to get the judgment of a judge who uses evidence in a litigation process to pass judgment.
- Religious Institutions: Religions organizations such as churches can use their religious norms and principles to address conflicts.
- Committees: these are usually common in communities and organizations where a group of individuals are selected to lead discussions among conflicting parties and arrive at agreements.
Values Related to Conflict Resolution: