Conflict Resolution Includes All of the Following Except…

Conflict Resolution Includes All of Following Except...

Conflict, whether between individuals, groups, governments, or some combination of these, comes in many forms: wars, social unrest, labor actions, protests, religious struggles, violence between individuals, political clashes, even family disagreements. Every form of conflict is a purposeful effort to meet some need or gain some advantage, whether it is status, power, wealth, a sense of righteousness, accumulation of scarce resources, self-esteem, or something else. Such acquisition is almost always resisted by others competing for the same resource, perpetuating the conflict.  (For our purposes, “conflict” can be defined as a situation in which the needs and/or desires of one or more parties are at least partly incompatible.)

There are many forms of conflict resolution: negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, litigation, early neutral evaluation, and numerous hybrids and variants.  While not all of these methods qualify as alternative dispute resolution, they are all types of conflict resolution.

The Harvard Program on Negotiation describes conflict resolution: “Conflict resolution can be defined as the informal or formal process that two or more parties use to find a peaceful solution to their dispute.”  But as Professor John Burton of George Mason University’s Center for Conflict Analysis points out, conflict resolution can mean different. things to different parties depending on context. To a military man, says Burton, a first-strike attack may seem like conflict resolution if it eliminates the ability of an enemy to inflict harm.

The problem with Burton’s example is that the cessation of conflict is not the resolution of conflict.  A lawsuit is not over because a judge continues its hearing.  World War I did not end because there was a Christmas truce.  Intractable conflicts, like the Hundred Years’ War, the Crusades, the wars between India and Pakistan, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the conflict in the Middle East last for generations and became part of the social fabric.  They are characterized by relative calm periods alternating with violence.  Such conflicts are not resolved until a permanent solution is found. Permanent solutions require addressing the underlying causes of the dispute.  It is not enough to overwhelm the opposition; even conquered and occupied peoples can mount some resistance. Violence does not resolve conflict, though it can delay resolution or provide the motivation for it.

With this in mind we can say that true conflict resolution is:

* Intended to end conflict permanently;

*Addresses the underlying interests of the conflicting parties;

*Usually involves a process guided by a neutral third party, though the parties may negotiate independently.

To resolve conflict, the parties must communicate.  Needs and desires must be identified, and their relative I’m part p.  Unless the parties are going to turn the decision over to a judge or arbitrator, the parties must make concessions.  While continuing aggression is often an outgrowth of conflict, its resolution requires dialogue, understanding, and some degree of bargaining.

Conflict management

Conflict is inevitable. How we respond to that conflict is up to us. Gupta and Uike define conflict management as minimizing conflict’s negative consequences while maximizing its benefits.  They also emphasize the ability to deal with conflicts fairly and competently. Other writers note the need to prevent simmering conflict from becoming a problematic dispute-Others include conflict resolution, but this author views conflict management as a distinct process.

The benefits of conflict

Everyone is aware of the negative impact of conflict, even without violence: wasted time and energy, excessive consumption of resources, damage to relationships, public airing of private matters as well as emotional and physical stress.  It seems odd to talk about the benefits of conflict. But they do exist. According to Entrepreneur magazine, conflict in the workplace has the following positive results:

  1. Conflict leads to refinement and clarification of ideas: The sometimes-heated debate that comes with questioning, challenging, and testing ideas refines and clarifies them for participants. The process allows the strength of concepts to be tested, sometimes leading to the abandonment of the status quo or the adoption of new and different approaches.
  2. Conflict can help us express our unmet needs: Oftentimes at work, we neglect ourselves, failing to discuss our needs as we focus on the job at hand.  Speaking one’s mind and expressing ideas forcefully but not offensively is a learned skill that builds confidence, making it easier to express our own needs as well as our ideas.
  3. Conflict enhances flexibility: Negotiation, both with coworkers and with clients, is a form of ritual conflict.  Concessions are the engine that drives negotiation forward.  To be successful in this type of conflict, we must be flexible enough to let go of our own proposals and accept the other party’s. It may not even be better than ours.  Nevertheless, if we do not learn to be flexible enough to meet others’ needs, we will not flourish in negotiations.
  4. Conflict strengthens creativity: Deliberately challenging assumptions, looking for weaknesses in a plan, and searching for alternative solutions have been shown to improve creativity.
  5. Conflict helps us embrace necessary change. Conflict may be a sign that something is wrong with the status quo. Change is difficult for most people.  But the high cost and discomfort of conflict can push us to embrace the change that is necessary for growth.

So not all conflicts are bad. But even if the conflict is counterproductive, we may not want to expend the resources to resolve it.  The dispute may be unrelated to the things we are there to do, maybe too complex for us to address in the available time, or maybe beyond our skill to resolve without help.  Whatever the reason, sometimes conflict must be managed rather than resolved.

Preventing conflicts from becoming problems 

Not every conflict has to be a problem.  As discussed, some conflicts are beneficial. But when conflicts threaten to interfere with work or important relationships at work or at home, something has to be done.  If you are the one tasked with doing it, here are a few tips:

A. Give the parties a chance to talk.  Sometimes people grow frustrated simply because they don’t feel heard — by supervisors or by each other.  Ideally, everyone should be able to discuss their concerns jointly.  After all, they have to interact often. But if someone needs to talk privately, allow it.

B. Make sure you understand what is being said Practice active listening. Repeat the substance of what you heard to make sure you are getting it right. Misunderstandings lead to further conflict.

 C. Take notes. Notes are an aid to later recall, as well as admissible evidence if it’s needed.  They demonstrate you are paying attention and will help you draft any necessary report or plan of action.

D. Explain yourself. No one wants to feel kept in the dark, so explain what you are doing and why.

E. Expect emotion. Humans are emotional creatures. Conflict generates emotions, expect feelings to play a role, but don’t allow discussions to devolve into personal attacks.

F. Let the parties contribute Make it clear that you expect the conflict to stop, and ask the parties for workable solutions. The buck may stop with you, but if the parties contribute to the solution, it is more likely to be durable.

G. Use standards if possible If the decision comes down to your personal preference, own it. But if you can, tie the outcome to preexisting rules, policies or accepted standards of fairness.  Neutral standards don’t allow for pushback or accusations of favoritism.

You may be able to think of other ways to prevent conflict from becoming worse.  This list is not meant to be exhaustive.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), used to identify a subject’s general approach to dealing with conflict, or what might be termed his or her conflict personality. This approach varies along two axes: Assertiveness (concern for one’s own interests) and cooperativeness (concern for others’ interests). The TKI lists five styles of conflict management. No single style is always appropriate, though people

  • Competing: This approach is characterized by a high degree of assertiveness and a low degree of cooperativeness.  Competitive behavior is often seen amidst scarcity, where there is a serious power imbalance, and where the relationship between the parties is nonexistent or viewed as unimportant.   As a conflict management technique, competition can be used to evaluate the relative effectiveness or popularity of different alternatives.  In some settings, competition can be used to improve teamwork or increase productivity.


  • Collaborating:   Collaborating demonstrates high assertiveness and a high degree of cooperativeness. Often called win-win or integrative bargaining, the approach is frequently used in mediation.  It seeks to satisfy all parties’ interests.  This can be very difficult and is often possible only if the conflict can be reframed to broaden the opportunities for gain, or if the parties differently value the available resources in a way that lends itself to resolution through trade-offs.  An insistence on a win-win outcome may actually prolong conflict since the difficulty of discovering solutions acceptable to all parties will delay settlement. If collaborating will not work because no integrative solution can be found or the parties lose patience, another TKI approach will have to be chosen or resolution
  • Compromising: Some people call Compromising (which is at the midpoint on both assertiveness and cooperativeness) lose-lose the negotiation. Each party gives up something, and no one ends up with everything they want. Unfortunately, this is usually the best that can be done unless the situation is right for a collaborative solution. Bargainers generally the inevitable disappointment that comes with this approach as acceptable and fair.  That said, compromise may carry the seeds of future conflict with it if the subject of the conflict was an important one.  By definition, in a compromise, some interests remain unmet, and parties may continue to pursue them in the future. Compromise has been said to be best for trivial matters that need to be resolved too quickly for collaborating to work.
  • Accommodating: Someone who has an accommodating approach to conflict sacrifices their Interest in favor of the interests of another party. Such a person is low on the TKI’s Assertiveness scale and high on the Cooperativeness scale.  Sacrificing interests in this way indicates either a large power imbalance, an unimportant need, a critically important relationship, or some combination of these.  Also, unless the thing sacrificed was not important, the sacrificing party may feel resentment, and future conflicts may arise because of the unmet need the sacrifice represents.
  • Avoiding:  An avoiding strategy, in which a is low in Assertiveness and low in Cooperation. Like the Accommodating style, it may indicate a large power imbalance, an unimportant need, a critically important relationship, or some combination of these. Alternatively, the need may be too painful or difficult to address. Suppression of need may lead to future conflict, depending on the circumstances.

Not every conflict is cause for concern. With proper management, many can be opportunities for change, growth, and innovation for you and those around you.

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