Why is Resolving Conflict So Important?
“Conflict is a natural process common to all societies, with predictable dynamics and amenable to constructive resolution” – Paul Wehr, Conflict Regulation (Westview Press, 1979)
What is conflict and when does it become a problem? Conflict exists when two or more parties have one or all of the following:
- Different perceptions, goals or interests
- Incompatible behaviors
A young man went into a store intending to buy himself a nice sports shirt. As he arrived at the store, a sales clerk met him and showed him a display of shirts that were on sale. As the young man looked at these shirts, he noticed that none of them was the one he wanted. He pointed this out to the sales clerk and described the one he wanted. The sales clerk then attempted to convince him of the advantage to buying the shirts that were on sale. His motive (unstated) was that his supervisor had reminded the staff they needed to sell these shirts in order to make room for the new merchandise coming in. So what was the conflict? Obviously, the young man and the sales clerk had different interests.
What are the different types and styles of conflict?
People see the world from different perspectives. Valuing differences is an important key in conflict resolution. Even when working together, two people may have different goals for the outcome. Incompatible behavior is defined as acting in a way that inhibits another person from achieving his or her goals.
In the example above, if the young man buys the shirt that is on sale, his behavior is compatible because this helps the sales clerk meet his goal of reducing the inventory. However, if he does not buy the shirt, his behavior is incompatible because it does not help in reducing the inventory. When you have compatible behaviors, even though you have different interests, you create a condition called latent conflict. When you have the same interests and incompatible behaviors, you create false conflict.
Reasons People Do Not Resolve Their Conflict…
There are two major reasons why conflict does not get resolved.
- It does not get addressed
- One or more parties are unwilling to change their position
People who are passive or perceive that they do not have the power to act in their own best interest generally exhibit compatible behaviors even though their interests are different. They avoid conflict; therefore, conflict is not addressed and cannot be resolved.
Perhaps the shirt buyer and the clerk scenario plays out this way:
The customer lets the clerk convince him to buy a shirt he really doesn’t want. The customer may save some money, but he’s not satisfied. Later, he may return the shirt. Even if he doesn’t, what is the likelihood he’ll return to that store, or recommend it to friends? Zero. This is latent conflict and its probable results.
On the other hand, people who are aggressive or who crave power and control are unlikely to be willing to change their position even though, in the end, the outcome would be better. Such people generally have incompatible behaviors, even when their interests are the same. As such, they create false conflict, which does not get resolved unless they are willing to change their position.
Most interactions have some interests that are the same and some that are different. Such is the case with the young man and the sales clerk. The young man would want to be a satisfied customer by getting his needs met. The sales clerk would want to have a satisfied customer because it is good for business. If the sales clerk continues to push for the goal of reducing inventory at the expense of having a satisfied customer, he is creating false conflict.
The false conflict might play out thus:
The clerk again insists on showing the customer only the shirts that will reduce his inventory until, in frustration, the customer leaves to purchase elsewhere. The clerk has made no sale, which surely wasn’t his ultimate goal. Certainly, he and the customer had the same goal – for the customer to leave the store with a shirt. The clerk, sidetracked from his ultimate goal, used overly aggressive sales tactics that turned away a potential customer.
Unresolved conflict in a relationship can destroy the relationship. Unresolved conflict within an organization can destroy the organization. The existence of conflict is itself neither good nor bad. The issue is how you respond to it. The key is to resolve it to achieve a win-win outcome. The key is not to avoid conflict, but to resolve it. Conflict itself can be healthy when it leads to addressing issues that need to be brought out in the open and resolved.
In my next article I will address Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution.
This is an excerpt from my book “Embracing Change From the Inside Out”
If you’re ready to make life changes from the inside out contact me, I will help you understand how to make those changes.
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