Conflict is defined as an instance where two or more people assert their rights over property, assets, resources, decisions, and ideas… and in so doing they restrict the rights of others.
It is an escalation of emotion and comes from a breakdown in respect. When one person respects another, they can negotiate, but as soon as they stop respecting each other (even for just a moment), conflict will break out.
When we learn to resolve conflict in a beneficial way, we open ourselves up to better decisions and personal development. We learn about the situation, and about the other person’s point of view. When we listen to one another, understanding and compassion develop. From that we grow organisations and advance teams.
Causes and Types of Conflict:
Paraphrased from a 2009 article by Professor Abdul Ghaffar from Qurtuba University 2009 published in the Journal of Managerial Sciences –
- Affective Conflict – a condition in which group members have interpersonal clashes characterized by anger, frustration, and other
- negative feelings
- Substantive Conflict – disagreements among group members’ ideas and opinions about the task being performed
- Conflict of Interest – an inconsistency between two parties in their preferences for the allocation of a scarce resource. This type of conflict
- Conflict of Values / ideological conflict – when two social entities differ in their values or ideologies on certain issues
- Goal Conflict – when a preferred outcome or an end-state of two social entities is inconsistent
- Retributive Conflict – where the conflicting entities or factions feel the need for a drawn-out conflict to punish the opponent.
- Misattributed Conflict – the incorrect assignment of causes (behaviours, parties, or issues) to conflict
- Displaced Conflict – when the conflicting parties either direct their frustrations or hostilities to social entities that are not involved in conflict or argue over secondary, not major, issues”
(Journal of Managerial Sciences, 2009, Volume III, Number 1I, p. 214)
Conflict occurs because we misinterpret other people’s behaviours due to differing personalities, and we misinterpret because we don’t understand them. We see their actions through our own personality. It is easy to trust and like people who are like us, and harder to trust and like those who are different.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
Communication Starts with Listening:
There are four levels of listening:
- You nod along, but you don’t take in any information.
- If you have two conversations going on, or perhaps a conversation and something in the background, and you select which to pay more attention to. It could also be listening to your own thoughts while someone else is talking. You are not paying the person the attention required to fully understand what they are saying.
- Active listening. Paying attention to what is being said to you. You are able to notice what is being said and interpret it robustly.
- Listening between the lines, not just to what is being said, but also what is left unsaid. You recognise and interpret body language, the difference between what is said, and the way it’s said.
Conflict resolution can only occur in the attending or empathising levels.
In order to listen well, you need to:
- Put yourself out of the way. Be curious about what the other person has to say. Don’t let your own biases interfere with what is being said.
- Turn down your own mental volume. Listen to what is being said, instead of formulating what you will say next yourself.
- Pay attention to your listening. Notice when your own thoughts start intruding, or you start judging what the other person is saying.
- Let the person know you are listening. Give verbal and visual cues. Make eye contact. Leaning in / out at the right time.
It’s okay if you need to think after someone stops speaking before you answer. You might tell them it’s a good question and you need to mull it over. If the person is uncomfortable with the following silence, they might feel it necessary to continue speaking. They might repeat themselves – the more you repeat an argument, the less powerful the argument is. Or they might give you additional valuable information.
If you just dive in with a pre-prepared response, you might be reacting to what you think they were saying, instead of what was actually said while you weren’t paying enough attention.
The way to avoid conflict is to remain calm, respectful and mindful. The only way you can do that is by keeping your temper under control. Self-control will prevent conflict and slow the escalation.
Strategies for Resolving Conflict:
- Informal one to one chat – Highly effective in the early stages of conflict. It is key to choose a neutral setting that is comfortable for both parties, yet appropriate to the seriousness of the conflict.
- Formal discussion – This is a more structured one to one chat, where one person clearly has a power advantage over the other. It is very popular in the workplace and very effective. The key point is to choose a time and place, and to be well prepared.
- Raise it at a meeting – Use this with discretion, as it can backfire very easily and is not always the appropriate form of action. However, if you get it right, it harnesses peer pressure to help to resolve the conflict. Just keep in mind that sometimes people are afraid of conflict and will do or say anything to de-escalate it, and are not necessarily motivated to get the right solution.
- Mediation – Find somebody who can present each party’s views to the other, and ensure each is being heard and properly interpreted. It is still up to the conflicting parties to come to their own solution, but a Mediator will help clear up misunderstandings.
- Arbitration – Find a 3rd party to listen to the differing points of view, their outcomes, and their decisions, and then the 3rd party makes a rational decision and impose a solution on both parties. Often used in a formal setting as a step to avoid going to law.
- Confrontation – When you take someone on head-on, and often done in a public setting. This is very extreme and high risk. You need to have absolute confidence that your facts are correct, and need to know what will happen if it causes further escalation.
- Discipline – Can only be done when you have the power in the situation and can impose a resolution. Need to be absolutely sure you are right, as this is the ultimate solution and there is no going back. Sometimes this is the only way to make progress, but using your authority to punish can also hold severe consequences such as a breakdown of the relationship.
Steps for using the Informal Chat to Resolve Conflict:
- First you need to make a conscious decision to engage positively. Prepare all your talking points in advance and be ready to actively listen to the other party’s point of view before you make decisions.
- Approach them in a respectful way to make arrangements for the meeting.
- Take turns sharing your perception of what went wrong. Show empathy for their situation, and try your best to understand it.
- Take turns sharing what you think a good outcome would be. What will success look like once the matter has been sorted. Make suggestions and listen to suggestions.
- Hone the suggestions down until you get to a reasonable definition of success that counts as a win for both parties (net benefit). Both of you will need to be generous in accepting that one might win more than the other, but if you both gain something you want, then it is a success.
- Once a possible resolution is agreed on, find a way to work together to implement it.
- Abdul Ghaffar (2009) – http://www.qurtuba.edu.pk/jms/default_files/JMS/3_2/05_ghaffar.pdf
- Lifehack (2018, August). 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home – https://www.lifehack.org/789807/listening-skills
- PGi (2016, May). 6 Ways to Transform Conflict into Effective Communication – https://www.pgi.com/blog/2016/05/6-ways-transform-conflict-effective-communication/
- Excellence Assured (2013, April). Four Levels of Listening – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAtIOfaSK_M
- Harvard Business Review (2019, January). How to Debate Ideas Productively at Work – https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-to-debate-ideas-productively-at-work
Stock Photo Credits:
- Photo by Jean Wimmerlin on Unsplash
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