Some Thoughts on Conflict Resolution

Understanding conflict and conflict resolution can enable a positive change in your work environment.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Conflict is healthy for any organization, if properly managed. Often, the best solutions  come from opposing points of view that blend to form a previously unrecognized option. Without conflict, we run the risk of “groupthink,” which narrows our point of view, stifles creativity and leads to missed opportunities. Conflict can have benefits, but unresolved conflict will not yield a positive outcome. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to better understand the concepts of conflict and conflict resolution.

Conflict is disagreement between two or more parties. A conflict can be minor and likely not worth an individual’s time or effort, or it can be serious with the potential for significant impact on the business. This serious type of conflict requires more focus and can arise from differences of opinion stemming from experience, personal beliefs, training and education, past successes and failures, and observations of what others have done.

Every individual has his or her own ideas on what should be done and how to do it. Furthermore, each person will likely believe just as strongly in their ideas as we do in our own. Serious conflicts can also arise from lack of communication, misunderstanding of communication that has occurred, unclear expectations and even manipulation.

How we react to conflict will frequently dictate the outcome. Individuals will typically react to conflict in one of five ways:

  1. Avoiding. Some individuals go to great lengths to ignore conflict or pretend it does not exist, with the hope that it will soon be forgotten. This is the worst reaction to conflict as it simply delays ultimate resolution and can slow work efficiency. The act of avoidance also frustrates others by displaying a lack of interest, cooperation and consideration. Avoidance is not useful.
  2. Accommodating. Although some may think of this reaction as being cooperative, it is really just giving in to the other party. There are some instances where this type of reaction may be suitable, but completely “giving in” on a regular basis prevents us from getting what we need and may even cause us to resent the other party.
  3. Competing. Treating conflict as a game that can only have one winner forces both parties to prepare for a win/lose outcome. Whereas demonstrating confidence and commitment to our ideas is admirable, standing our ground, no matter what, is not an effective way of resolving conflict. The obvious and continuing lack of cooperation can become tiresome and rarely yields long-term benefits.
  4. Compromising. On the surface, “give and take” may seem like a workable approach to conflict resolution, but often it yields a resolution that neither party is happy with. This amounts to a lose/lose outcome. Though it may work in situations where resolution must be expedited, resolving every conflict through compromise misses the opportunity to develop “outside-the-box” outcomes that are probably better for both parties.
  5. Collaborating. The most difficult approach to conflict resolution, collaborating offers the greatest opportunity for a true win/win outcome. For effective collaboration, there must be trust on both sides that may take a while to develop, especially if competing has been the norm. When parties collaborate, they listen to and begin to find value in each other’s ideas. This frequently leads to more ideas and the potential for a completely different vision of what is possible for each side to get what they want. For example, instead of proposing different ways to perform a task, collaboration may reveal that the task is not necessary or that it could be performed in a completely different way.

If we can limit our avoiding, accommodating and competing reactions to conflict while lessening our reliance on compromising, we can experience the benefits that a collaborative approach brings to conflict resolution. Collaboration will help to eliminate defensiveness as well as preconceived notions that frequently surface during conflict. It will also help us separate the situation (conflict) from the person, allowing us to approach disagreement with a more open mind. After all, the ideas of others are not necessarily “bad,” they are just “different” and should be treated accordingly.