be differences in opinions which inevitably lead to disagreements. Conflict exists in families, in the workplace, in churches and schools, in sports, between neighbors and between countries. Conflict is defined as “an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals”. (Wilmot and Hocker, 2001, p. 11). When there are differences in individual values, motivations, ideas and perceptions, conflicts arise. How individuals deal with conflict depends on personal history, family background and other influences over one’s lifetime. Gender as well as culture influence behavior and perceptions and play an important role in conflict resolution. Traditionally, conflict has been viewed as a destructive force which was best handled by avoiding, ignoring, or silencing it. There is a growing body of literature on the benefits of effective conflict management.
Healthy conflict is now viewed as a necessary ingredient in organizational success. The ability to deal effectively with conflict is critical to creating productive relationships. Although most people continue to view conflict negatively, it is a necessary ingredient to creativity and results in healthier relationships. There are two kinds of conflict, constructive and destructive. Constructive conflict should be encouraged because it leads to creative thinking and growth. It results in high performing organizations and to enhanced relationships. Destructive conflict should be eliminated or dealt with immediately. It is costly and does not promote positive personal or organizational development. Communication is a key ingredient in conflict resolution. There are various tools available to resolve conflict. They include legal remedies, arbitration as well as mediation. Conflict resolution skills are learned and when applied, result in improved relationships. Defining Conflict
There is an element of conflict in almost all relationships. Conflict has also been defined as “a social problem in which two or more persons, families, parties, communities, or districts are in disagreement with each other” ( Dzurgba, 2006). It occurs on an intrapersonal as well as an interpersonal level. If left unmanaged, conflict can lead to hostility, anger, alienation, war, inefficiency, expensive mistakes, legal battles as well as physical violence. There are five main conflict resolution styles that individuals use depending on the situation. They are:
Avoiding the Conflict – By avoiding the conflict, one or more parties pretend there is no problem. Some examples of avoiding include pretending nothing is wrong, shutting down or stonewalling. Accommodating – One party agrees to accommodate the other’s request usually for the sake of keeping the peace. This can lead to resentment. Competitive – One party stands his/her ground and competes to secure a win. In the short run, one party wins, but can lead to serious issues long term. Compromising – Both parties willingly enter into a negotiation where each gets something out of the other, but neither gets everything they want. Usually the parties negotiate on the larger issues where they have common ground and let go of minor issues. Collaboration – Both parties enter into meaningful negotiations towards a win-win solution. This style takes the most courage and involves listening to the other party and thinking creatively to resolve the problem without compromising. This is the most successful and admired and respected style.
Conflict resolution and mediation leads to the reduction of the conflict. Effectively addressing conflict leads to an improvement of relationships and to greater organizational and personal effectiveness. Conflict resolution entails managing stress, managing anger and managing face. When managed well, conflict can be a catalyst for innovation and creativity, leading to organizational learning. Conflict provides an opportunity for the best ideas to be shared to improve a situation or a process. Left unmanaged, conflict can have expensive legal consequences as others seek litigation to resolve the conflict. In organizations, it can lead to employee dissatisfaction, expensive turnover, decreased productivity and expensive errors. In families, unmanaged conflict can lead to violence, family dysfunction and divorce.
Types of Conflict
There are five types of conflicts, namely relationship, data, interest, structural and value. Relationship Conflicts
Relationship conflicts are personal and result from misperceptions, miscommunication, stereotypes, negative behavior and rumors. It affects the relationship between two people, but can impact others within the team. Work environments consist of employees from diverse backgrounds with very different value systems. There are cultural, gender and generational differences which contribute to relationship conflicts. As a result, miscommunication occurs because of differences in meaning, norms of communication and behavioral expectations. What is perceived as an ordinary conversation in one culture may be considered rude and intrusive by another culture. Spouses often have relationship conflicts that lead to divorce if unresolved.
Data conflicts often occur when two or more individuals are interpreting data differently. This can lead to wrong decisions, but can also lead to major disagreements. The budget conflicts which have let to the sequestration are an example of data conflicts. The Republicans and the Democrats are interpreting the budget numbers differently and coming to very different conclusions regarding what the numbers mean. As a result, they cannot agree on a budget.
Interest conflicts occur when one person is trying to take advantage of another person. This may happen if an employee starts a company that provides the same services as his/her employer. Interest conflicts occur when the boss is dating an employee because that may introduce favoritism and may negatively impact other employees.
A structural conflict is created by the organization. It is not subjective and is not created by people’s viewpoints or perceptions, but rather by limited resources or changes that the people involved have very little control over. An example of a structural conflict is a company that has customers across the world, but only has a customer service center in Ohio. The sales force would like to have all customers served promptly regardless of location, but the service center has regular hours. The company either has to create 24 hour shifts to accommodate its customers or open centers in other countries.
Value conflicts are differences in personal beliefs, preferences or priorities. This occurs between two people or within groups of people. Cultural differences usual result in different value systems which can lead to conflict. Examples of value conflicts in interpersonal relations can be a person who likes meat verses someone who is vegetarian, or, a liberal Democrat verses a conservative Republican. Each individual develops a value system based on culture, personality and the society they grow up in. There is no right or wrong in value systems, just a difference in opinion. Value conflicts are subjective because they are based on how people “feel” about each other or the situation. They are very difficult to effectively resolve.
Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Power
Power plays a critical role in interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts and disputes. There are many forms of power. The role of power in a conflict intensifies as the balance of power shifts. In the work environment, the power imbalance often exacerbates a conflict and often leads to resentment or anger. Power imbalance changes the communication styles used by the parties in a conflict. In conflict or dispute, one or more types of power may be used by the parties in the attempt to resolve the conflict. People in a high power position may not use their power to influence a decision out of guilt. In a conflict, one party usually possesses more power than the other. Real or perceived power imbalances make it difficult to resolve a conflict to everyone’s satisfaction. Power can be structural or personal. The extent to which one party can impose their will on another affects how the dispute is resolved. Power currency depends on the value placed on particular resources by the other party in the relationship. If one has what others need, they are in a powerful position and have more power currency. As needs change, the power currency may be more of less valuable. Just like actual currency, the value of the currency fluctuates and is situational. Interpersonal power currencies are:
1. Resource control: Often associated with a position within an organization and can include financial, information, equipment and rules and regulations. When a citizen visits the social security office to get disability benefits, the government holds the power for the decision to approve or not approve the benefits. The citizen has very little power and the government has the resources. 2. Interpersonal linkages: This is associated with someone’s position in the larger system. This is highly dependent on “who you know” and the relationships one has to make things happen. The Secretary of State is in a position to resolve the Mid-east conflict based on the interpersonal linkages he/she has with both Israel and Egypt. 3. Communication skills: Listening skills, leadership skills and the ability to effectively communicate is a power currency. Preachers have the ability to communicate a message to their congregation and get them to rally around a particular issue.
They are often called upon to mediate disputes because of their ability to listen, be empathetic to both parties and effectively communicate both viewpoints and negotiate a resolution. 4. Expertise skills: When one has a special skill or knowledge that others find valuable, he is in a position of influence. A pilot, a surgeon or a car mechanic all possess special skills that put them in power positions during certain disputes. Power imbalances disproportionally benefit the powerful party. Power generally falls into three categories, designated power, distributive power and integrative power. Designated power is often referred to as positional power and is as a result of a position or office held. A parent, manager, teacher or policeman has power that comes from their position. Distributive power is the “power over or against the other party” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2001, p. 103). Integrative or “both/and” power comes from two parties working together to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. This power differential has a significant impact on the substance and the process to resolve the conflict. When applied appropriately “constructive use of power solves problems, enhances relationships, and balances power” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011, p. 103).
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
There is a growing body of literature on forgiveness and reconciliation. Disparate fields such as social and developmental psychology, anthropology, political sciences, religion and legal studies have all been conducting research on forgiveness and reconciliation. There are many definitions of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation often follow other efforts to resolve a conflict and heal the relationship. As such, forgiveness is highly personal and emotional. Kornfield defined it as follows: “Forgiveness is the heart’s capacity to release its grasp on the pains of the past and free itself to go on” (Kornfield, 2001, p.236). As shown in Figure 1, there is a flow of events that lead to reconciliation.
The Forgiveness & Reconciliation Cycle for Effective Conflict Resolution
Forgiveness is a key ingredient essential for reconciliation and conflict resolution. It is recognized in religion and social science literature as an important element in healing conflicts. For healing to occur and normal trusting relationships to be formed, both sides need to stop blaming each other and move past the conflict. An apology is a catalyst and a key ingredient leading to forgiveness and reconciliation, and ultimately to conflict resolution. While conflict resolution is focused on resolving substantive issues in a dispute, reconciliation focuses on addressing personal and relational issues and restoring relationships. William Faulkner was quoted by journalist Bill Moyers as saying “Forgiveness is giving up the idea of a better past” (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011, p. 297). Forgiveness is concerned with healing the hurt, disappointments and sins of the past, and improving relationships in the future.
Mediation and Organizational Conflict Resolution
A mediator is defined as “a neutral third party who has no decision-making power regarding the outcome of the mediation” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 197). The advantages of mediation are: 1. Cost – Mediation is much less expensive than the alternative of either having the situation go unresolved or resolve legally 2. Flexibility – Mediation can be conducted anywhere as long as it is neutral ground. 3. Informal – It can be adapted to accommodate cultural, personal, structural and other differences. 4. Effectiveness – Mediated solutions tend to last because the parties come to a mutually agreed solution. 5. Preserves Relationships – Parties tend to have stronger long term relationships because they feel they were heard and have the other’s commitment. Effective organizations have mediation as part of the conflict resolution process. This is an effective way to resolve conflicts while both parties maintain control and ownership of the issues.
Effective conflict resolution is important to building productive relationships. The importance of conflict resolution has been reinforced by the disparate fields focused on studying the subject. Organizations must provide the right structure for effective conflict resolution to be effective. Effective conflict resolution requires a health balance of power and promotes a health organizational culture. When all stakeholders have a voice, decision making is enhanced, engagement improves, and innovation increases. Maintaining a balance of power should be a high priority for any organization to be competitive and reach maximum productivity. Diversity is a consideration when creating conflict resolution processes. Gender, ethnicity and culture have to be considered to create an effective process. Although power is complex and maintaining a balance of power is fraught with difficulty, process design, effective communication, and a culture that encourages open dialogue will ensure that all parties effectively negotiate in their own interest to bring about fair outcomes.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) said that “there can be no future without forgiveness”. Forgiveness is an intrapersonal as well as an interpersonal activity. Forgiving someone can be done with or without the other person’s consent, making it a relatively easy process intrapersonal. It is much more complicated interpersonally since it requires another party to either apologize, or accept an apology and forgive. As research is finding, “Apology and forgiveness have the potential to foster reconciliation and encourage peaceful coexistence among groups and nations” (Asby et al, 2010, p. 25). Conflict should be treated as an essential ingredient for healthy relationships both at home and at work. In health care organizations such as MaineGeneral Health, empowering employees with skills to handle conflict was critical to creating a culture where employees felt comfortable speaking up (Bullock, 2011, p. 82). By speaking up, the hospital was able to avoid medical errors.
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