Conflict is inevitable. Thus, we will all deal with conflict throughout our lives—often on a consistent basis. For example, people often experience conflict in their personal lives, at work, and even while partaking in recreation or hobbies. However, while conflict can be a natural occurrence, how we handle it can—and should—be developed in ways that allow us to resolve the conflict successfully. It is extremely beneficial to study conflict resolution and build solid negotiation skills to help you resolve your conflicts and move forward peacefully, beneficial solution in hand.
What Is Conflict?
Conflict is defined as a clash between individuals or groups, that arises out of a difference in thoughts, attitudes, understandings, interests, or perceptions. In simpler terms, conflict essentially boils down to not seeing eye to eye with someone else. Depending on the circumstances, conflict can take place in a wide variety of situations, potentially resulting in intense arguments, physical altercations, and a general loss of peace and harmony.
However, the extent of how intense a conflict becomes truly depends on the capability of the parties involved to communicate, listen, and adapt to better understand each other and reach a common goal. This goal could take the form of a truce, the ability to complete a project, one or both parties compromising their goals, or simply even just co-existing. When conflicts arise, they can change relationships positively or negatively—that’s why proper management is key.
Phases of Conflict
There are five main phases people involved in a conflict will experience. These include:
- Pre-Conflict. This phase is the build-up of the conflict and involves all the factors that could create a conflict. These factors vary widely but can include lack of coordination, differences of interest, or an inability to relate to others’ cultural, religious, or educational backgrounds. Each of these factors can lead to a rising conflict.
- Triggering event. For the most part, conflict doesn’t arise out of nowhere, even when there are many pre-conflict factors in place. Instead, conflict often involves some type of event that triggers its onset. Triggers can be anything, from a workplace disagreement over a team project to the need to make important decisions with friends or family.
- Initiation phase. After the triggering event, the conflict has begun. At this point, conflict can manifest itself in several ways. Conflict can involve written disagreements, heated verbal arguments, and further, even physical, escalation if not handled properly.
- Once the conflict has been acknowledged, the next step is attempting to move toward understanding why the conflict happened and what can be done about it. This involves the opportunity for those involved to voice their differences and truly hear what the other is saying. At this point, the reasons for the conflict are brought forward and expressed.
- This step ideally concludes with the resolution of the conflict in question. In and of itself, conflict leads nowhere—if left unresolved, conflict can lead to more extensive issues. In this phase, individuals must have the opportunity to reach some form of understanding or compromise. This phase allows them to explore the assorted options and move towards resolving the conflict once and for all.
Common Types of Conflict
As you might expect, in a world filled with conflict, there are several distinct types of potential conflicts one can experience. These are the most common types of conflict:
- Task Conflicts
Task conflicts arise in situations where individuals must coordinate regarding a project or task so everyone involved can successfully finish a portion of the task in question. Conflict may arise when one employee or department needs to finish a task before another can do their part. For example, if an individual who is relaxed or often doesn’t worry about deadlines is working on a task that must be passed on for completion, the person waiting may feel rising tension, resulting in conflict. The best solution to this issue is to delegate tasks effectively. For this reason, communication is key in task-specific conflicts. Roles and responsibilities should be clear so that everyone is on the same page.
- Leadership Conflicts
There are several ways to effectively approach leadership, and these leadership styles can and do vary among individuals working in the same field. Each style can have a slightly different impact on employees. Some leaders take a bold and charismatic approach while others are more laid-back; some are highly technical and strictly enforce rules and deadlines while others are more hands-off and rely on a natural flow of work output.
When a leadership style conflicts with the outlook of the people involved, a resolution will only occur with work on the parts of both the leader and the follower. It is important to emphasize mutual respect for differences that can be found throughout a workplace or other organization. Leaders should be able to self-reflect on their leadership style and remain aware of how they interact with different working styles and personalities within their team.
- Work Style Conflicts
As mentioned above, there are many different approaches when it comes to completing work or navigating the workplace environment. At some point, you may have applied for a job that required you to fill out a personality exam before hire. These tests usually ask about your ability to work alone, in a group, with leader support, independently, or otherwise. These work style approaches shape how you interact with coworkers and accomplish work—unfortunately, differing work styles can also create conflict.
Some individuals prefer to work in groups while others prefer to work alone. Some workers don’t need any direction, while some value leader input and desire direction every step of the way. Similarly, many people work well under pressure while others prefer to work at a steady pace or get tasks done early. With a mix of some or all these different approaches to work on one team, odds are there will be conflict at some point—especially if the normal workflow is tested.
When it comes to overcoming these conflicts, mutual respect and understanding are key. Although some team members may prefer to work one way, there are certainly instances when change, adaptation, and collaboration are necessary. Thus, it is extremely beneficial to learn how to deal with differences in work style.
- Value Conflicts
This conflict arises when two people or groups have a unique perspective of the morals or values in play during a particular situation. People are shaped by their backgrounds, upbringing, and life experiences—what may be morally “wrong” to one person may be a common occurrence for another. While values and morals can differ widely among groups—as well as among members of a team—assumptions and quick judgments are a common source of conflict. As a result, this type of conflict can be extremely subjective, because it is based on how one participant feels about another person or situation, instead of the more logical components at play.
- Personality-Based Conflicts
We learn at an early age that everyone is different, and that we will not like everyone we meet. However, when it comes to the workplace, it can be difficult for one person to learn to work with someone else who has a personality they find disagreeable—especially when the outcome has such high stakes. During personality conflicts, it is important to remember that how we perceive someone isn’t necessarily how they are. People experiencing personality-based conflicts must also exercise empathy and understanding to successfully resolve the conflict.
- Creative Idea Conflicts
When working as a team, conflict is frequent, and almost expected. What changes is the amount of escalation involved with each conflict. Creative idea conflicts are one of the few conflicts that can be seen as beneficial if they don’t escalate out of control. In this form of conflict, issues arise during the brainstorming process and can prove to be an excellent opportunity to make ideas better. Creative idea conflicts help employees understand the need to recognize the ideas of others, voice their ideas, and gather the best suggestions to reach a solution. This conflict necessitates discussion, compromise, and mediation if necessary to work towards a mutually agreeable solution.
- Competition Conflicts
This type of conflict can arise when strong personalities must work together or collaborate in some way. Competition usually stems from people who insist on winning disputes no matter what the cost, and thus often involves the need to be “right.” This conflict can be one of the most difficult to resolve since it is not often possible for both participants to feel as though they have won. Unfortunately, this means competition conflicts often do not allow for collaborative problem-solving and may require a third party to make the ultimate decision.
What Does Conflict Resolution Do?
Conflicts never simply disappear. In fact, when it appears a conflict has evaporated, one or both parties have made a conscious or unconscious decision to acquiesce their position and keep the status quo. However, this tactic is not recommended for the workplace—no one wants to work in a passive-aggressive environment where issues are ignored rather than addressed.
Since conflict is such a normal part of life, so, too, is the ability to resolve these conflicts. When people actively work to resolve conflicts, they can build stronger relationships as a result. Thus, effective conflict resolution can reduce discontent that may be damaging working relationships. Resolution helps to facilitate better collaboration between individuals, better relationships in the long term, and can also help to maintain morale.
Conversely, letting conflict go unresolved, can dampen morale, breed discontent, and hamper collaborative relationships. Worse, unresolved conflict can spread and begin to affect others. The faster conflict can be resolved, the easier it becomes to maintain peace and morale in the workplace. This, in turn, is a major factor in driving productivity.
Finding a Resolution: Strategies That Work
A mentioned, conflict can happen for a variety of reasons, from the small and manageable to the large and complex. No matter the cause of the conflict, it is important to find the means to bring about resolution. There are several potential ways to find a resolution when conflict does arise. These resolution strategies may include:
- Establishing Open, Constructive Communication
This strategy is complex in and of itself and involves multiple steps. The first is termed “accommodating,” which involves one party acquiescing and giving the opposing party exactly what it needs to resolve the problem. This allows the parties to resolve the problem in a speedy manner before it becomes a long-term issue. However, to accommodate, both parties must develop an understanding of what an accommodation solution looks like. As a result, constructive communication heavily relies on the parties’ ability to participate in active listening. Active listening involves a variety of techniques to truly hear the other side’s position and demonstrate to them that understanding is taking place. For example, active listeners ask clarification questions to ensure full understanding and alert the speaker they are being heard.
This form of resolution tends to be the most familiar for most people, as it is common in romantic relationships and can easily translate to work and beyond. With this form of resolution, you are seeking reconciliation—both parties actively want to find a mutual agreement that will settle the dispute. Compromise can be one of the quickest ways to resolve a conflict before it becomes a larger issue. The compromise can either exist as a permanent solution or a temporary agreement until the parties involved can settle on something more permanent.
As you might expect, collaboration is all about working with the other party to find a mutually agreeable solution to a problem. While conflict led to the situation in question, both sides are capable of working together to find a solution that benefits both parties. Collaboration can be one of the most peaceful means of resolving conflict since it involves working together and gives both parties ownership of the solution.
Mediation often arises when two parties simply can’t—or won’t—see eye to eye. While this type of resolution must occur with both parties’ willingness to resolve the conflict, they are unable to do it together. Mediation allows a third, uninvolved, party to act as a non-biased party who will hear both sides and offer suggestions regarding how to resolve the issue. In a mediation, the two conflicting parties hold control of the situation but are ultimately seeking outside guidance.
Arbitration is much like mediation, but the final decision is no longer in the hands of the conflicting parties. With arbitration—as with mediation—the conflicting parties are unable to come to a decision and require outside guidance. Both parties will provide their conflicting sides to a neutral third party who acts as an arbitrator. The arbitrator could be a manager, team leader, or someone else with the authority to make a final decision. After hearing both sides, the arbitrator will determine the final resolution to the conflict.
Determining Conflict Resolution Strategies
Of course, different forms of conflict may require different conflict resolution strategies. In an ideal world, the conflicting parties would be able to identify the correct solution on their own. However, this is often not the case.
When emotions are high, it can be difficult to take a step back and assess the situation logically to determine the best resolution strategy. Having a toolset of conflict resolution strategies in place can help ease the tension of these situations. Fortunately, Shapiro Negotiations Institute is committed to supplying information and negotiation training for those interested in learning more about conflict resolution and the power of negotiation. To request further information, please reach out to SNI at your earliest convenience.