It seems strange to ask what conflict is as we often encounter it on a daily basis. It’s usually seen as two people fighting, either physically or verbally. This idea of conflict is scary, to say the least.
It’s not always so obvious, at least to start off with. Conflict could start off as a feeling that you have been disrespected (whether you have perceived that correctly or not) and you may not discuss the offending act with the other party. This could go on for years. However, that sense of hostility and grievance is palpable whenever you encounter the person who caused your reaction and it may colour everything that the person says or does. I’m sure you can imagine the scenario; the manager who spoke to you dismissively or the aunt who gave you a terrible Christmas present. It might not feel appropriate to air your feelings and so you keep quiet. You may actually feel scared to do so. Meanwhile, the feelings of resentment fester, leaving your perception tainted with what they did.
Disputes vs. Conflict
Lawyers and mediators try to make a conflict easier to understand by transforming it into a dispute that rationalises the causes and allows the parties to find a resolution.
A dispute, in contrast, is a much clearer definition of what the problem is about. Going back to the manager who spoke to you dismissively, the conflict is the negative emotion you feel; the hurt, rejection and self-doubt which could result in tension between you. The dispute may relate to how he is treating you. For example, you may perceive this as unfair treatment in comparison to the rest of the employees on the basis of your physical characteristics. If you were to voice this in some way (perhaps to your human resources department), they may respond with a defence or explanation. If you are not satisfied with this, you could look to the many ways you could resolve this dispute and find a solution, for example, an apology. In legal terms, you may classify this as a discrimination claim.
Lawyers and mediators try to make a conflict easier to understand by transforming it into a dispute that rationalises the causes and allows the parties to find a resolution. Conflict persists because it isn’t often easy to separate its emotional impact from the bare bones of the dispute. Whilst you may resolve the dispute with your employer about discrimination, you may still feel hostility and anger towards your employer and so the conflict, for you, is not resolved.
The purpose of transforming a conflict into a dispute by identifying the underlying problem and giving it label (e.g. contract breach, negligence, discrimination etc.) is to separate it from the emotional turmoil. In reality, that doesn’t always work without the intervention of a mediator, however, it does allow more chance of finding a resolution. Whether it is effective or not, is another story.
Conflict Resolution Tips
If you want to bring some clarity to a conflict and aim to resolve it, here are some tips:
- Distance yourself from the offending person (even just for 5 minutes!). This will not only prevent the conflict from escalating but it will give you emotional and mental distance so you can think a bit clearer about what to do next;
- Ask yourself why this is provoking these feelings – what values have been challenged by the offending party? Respect? Trust? Why is that important to you?
- Identify what it is that has caused the disagreement. This will help you to gain clarity and to repackage a messy conflict;
- Involve a third party. If this doesn’t work, consider involving a qualified conflict resolution expert to assist you.
It’s not easy to do, but the key to effective conflict resolution is neutralising the negative emotions surrounding a dispute. Once you know what the dispute or problem is, you can then work on a strategy to overcome it.
Contact me for further assistance or let me know how you got on by commenting below!