Dynamics of Conflict … in IV Acts!

Conflict managementConflict refers to some form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one or more members of the group are either resisted by or unacceptable to one or more members of another group. Conflict can arise between members of the same group or it can occur between members of two or more groups.

Conflict in groups often follow a specific course. Routine group interaction is first disrupted by an initial conflict, often caused by differences of opinion, disagreements between members, or scarcity of resources. At this point, the group is no longer united, and may split into coalitions. This period of conflict escalation in some cases gives way to a conflict resolution stage, after which the group can eventually return to routine group interaction once again.

One school of thought treats the potential for conflict as a Four (IV) Act theatrical presentation wherein each act leads naturally to the next.

Let’s examine how this works.

Act I – Potential for conflict entails structural and interpersonal variables. Structural Variables include the types of jobs, departments and the relationships among these jobs and departments. Interpersonal Variables comprise an individual’s personality and values. The everyday definition of personality is “Our values are our personal conceptions of what is good, desirable; or what is bad, undesirable, and improper.”

Act II – Awareness of conflict can be characterized as perceived or felt. However, there are important differences between this pair of terms. Perceived conflict is the awareness that structural and interpersonal variables, might lead to open conflict between two parties or groups. This means that an individual is cognizant of the potential for conflict but has not yet engaged in overt conflict. They may not view the potential for conflict as being very high, or the issue may be too small to demand immediate attention. Felt conflict is the knowledge that overt conflict is about to occur, accompanied by the emotions of tension, anger, and fear.

Act III – Behavior is a set of actions taken by an individual in response to perceived or felt conflict. These feelings often lead to overt conflict. One way to define overt conflict is the interference by one or both parties in the goal-achievement efforts of the other side. This interference may be without rancor, simple or complex. Overt conflict can take many forms, from obvious to subtle. Subtle forms of overt conflict may include insults, embarrassing an opponent, provocative comments or looks, or forgetting to invite an opponent to a meeting. Union members may work to rule. Working to rule is an example of overt conflict behavior, although not as obvious and direct as a strike.

Resolution Approaches
Let’s define an approach as the method that a person uses to eliminate or minimize a dispute. Let’s examine five conflict-resolution approaches.

1. Avoidance occurs when one or both sides recognize that a conflict exists but react by withdrawing from or postponing the conflict. Conflicts that are avoided can result in molehills becoming mountains.

2. Accommodation occurs when one side resolves the conflict by giving in to the other side at the expense of at least some of their own needs. This approach is passive and called may be appeasement. This may be a rational approach if the other side has overwhelming power and the will to use it. If the relationship between the parties is more important than the specific conflict issue, each side might be more inclined to accommodate the other.

3. Compromise occurs when both sides gain and lose in order to resolve the conflict. It is an approach in which each side is partially satisfied and partially dissatisfied. A party willing to compromise is considered fair and reasonable, while a party unwilling to compromise is thought to be stubborn and unfair. On the other hand, a person who compromises too frequently may be seen as unprincipled or a pushover. This approach may prohibit the emergence of clear-cut winner or loser.

4. Collaboration or creative problem-solving demands that both sides look beyond the immediate problem. It takes imagination and cooperation and can consume considerable amounts of time and energy. This approach produces two winners and contributes to the quality of working relationships and higher success rates.

Act IV – Outcomes
Organizational conflict is episodic one particular conflict event may lead to others. These outcomes are a result of the decisions reached by the parties involved as well as how the conflict episode affects relationships between the parties and the rest of the organization.

In most cases, organizational performance is measured by effectiveness and efficiency. Therefore organizations are effective if they achieve their goals and efficient if they achieve their goals at minimal cost. It is possible for an organization to be effective but not efficient. It is not possible, however, for an organization to be both efficient and ineffective.

Related Articles:   Conflict Resolution … here’s how!   and   Listening … the internal obstacles!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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