Conflict can be defined as a disagreement or mental struggle in which opposing parties sense a threat to their interests, needs or concerns. By this definition conflict is a bad thing--a situation to be avoided. Generally when people hear the word “conflict” they see images of stressful confrontations, shouting matches and hurt feelings. In reality, conflict is a normal and sometimes necessary part of life, and positive conflict can actually lead to constructive changes.
During a conflict, participants tend to act based on their individual perceptions of the situation. Individual perceptions and resulting actions are influenced by a person’s values, beliefs, experience, gender, information, culture and various other factors. Participants’ responses in a conflict typically consist of ideas and emotions that can be powerful sources of conflict resolution.
There are different conflict styles that can each have consequences. A competing style usually elevates the threat level felt by participants, as it relies on an aggressive style of communication, with one person’s needs being promoted over the needs of others.
Accommodating Style & Avoiding
An accommodating conflict style results in one person allowing the needs of others to overwhelm their own needs, in an effort to preserve relationships. Accommodating is also known as “smoothing” and is often used in an effort to be diplomatic. Avoiding is more of a reaction to conflict than a style of conflict resolution. With avoidance, conflicts tend to become worse as feelings and views go unexpressed until relationships are gradually destroyed.
People that engage in a compromising style of conflict resolution often come away feeling dissatisfied and still not understanding the other participants' views. Although the approach generally consists of all participants getting and giving in a series of compromises, it can result in a lack of trust and avoidance of future collaborative endeavors.
A collaborating style is more likely to result in positive conflict resolution. It involves taking all participants’ needs and working towards a common goal, ideally resulting in a “win-win” solution for all parties involved. This style requires cooperation and assertive (not aggressive) communication to find a better solution than any one participant could have found alone. It allows for thinking outside the box and accepting new ideas and possible solutions.
Conflict can be positive with the necessary conflict management and resolution skills. Learning to stay relaxed and focused during conflict can help participants to recognize and manage their own emotions, which helps enable more effective communication. Some of the most important information exchanged during conflict is communicated non-verbally. Being aware of and improving on non-verbal communication skills helps participants to respond in ways that build trust. The use of humor can diffuse a tense moment of conflict by reducing anger and putting the situation into perspective.
Positive conflict is characterized by participants’ ability to recognize and respond to issues that are important to the other people involved. A description of positive conflict includes a willingness to forgive and forget. It means having the capacity to seek a compromise and avoid “punishing” the other participants. Finally, positive conflict involves the belief by participants that a resolution can be found that supports the needs of all parties involved.