When you disagree with someone, you have a difference of opinion because you and the other person have different interests, values, needs and intentions. Disagreeing with someone isn’t a bad thing. It can be viewed as positive and functional as well as natural. Disagreement doesn't have to lead to a huge fight. Conflict, on the other hand, is a powerful collision or dispute of needs, values, interests and intentions between two individuals or communities, groups, nations and organizations.
Conflict differs from disagreement because of its outcome, which is usually negative. Sometimes conflict can be constructive rather than destructive and can lead to purposeful disagreement, which results in positive outcomes and better decision making. The way the conflict is managed will determine the outcome.
For conflict to exist, the parties must first recognize each other and understand that each party has opposing ideas. Interaction between the parties is required. Conflict, unlike disagreement, is considered unhealthy competition and dysfunctional. It includes distrust, hostility, lack or loss of affinity and suspicion. Conflict happens when needs aren’t met or when a group or a person is seen as obstructing the goals of another group or person. It also entails struggling over resources and power.
When you disagree with someone, it can end on a positive note. Disagreement forces you to change, be innovative and find better ways of doing things as well as develop new skills and use improved resources. Conflict all too frequently does not result in a positive outcome. The bigger the conflict is, the harder it is to control it, whereas a disagreement can be controlled, explains Doug Hovatter of the University of West Virginia.
When you are in the midst of a disagreement, you must continue to communicate, but you need to do it in the right manner. Be aware of your voice, its pitch, your tone, the speed at which you are talking and how loud you are talking, and control your nonverbal gestures. Don't get in someone’s face -- in her personal space -- because this is intrusive and will be interpreted as a threat. This behavior will quickly change a disagreement into a conflict.
When faced with conflict, people tend to respond to it based on their understanding of the situation rather than looking at the situation objectively and coming to an unbiased perception. Your reactions and perceptions are the result of your cultural beliefs, your values, gender, experience and the information you have.
If communication is open between the parties, disagreement does not necessarily have to turn into conflict. If the individuals involved in the disagreement like one another, they are less likely to segue into full-blown conflict.