June 21, 2017

Solving Conflict Starts with Understanding

Conflict is endemic to the world of work, interactions in voluntary associations, sport clubs and churches.   As long as there people there will be conflict.  This is because people have diverse values, beliefs and opinions and diverse personalities and come from different backgrounds.   With all these differences comes the possibility for conflict.   Co-existence and getting along with one another presupposes that conflict will be resolved so that these relationships can operate at a high level of functionality.

Resolving conflict requires an understanding for the conflict, in regard to what type of conflict it is and the source of the conflict.

Many times, those involved in a conflict may not be in a position to see what the real cause is because they are too emotionally caught up in the conflict and unable to be so objective as to identify the true reason.   It takes maturity to be able to take a step back and to take an outside look at why there is conflict between oneself and somebody else and it requires the willingness to take a deep dive into why the conflict has come about.   If one cannot do this, it may be valuable to ask an experienced person to assist in trying to resolve the conflict.

There are two types of conflicts – cognitive or affective.

Cognitive conflicts are mostly constructive. They deal with conflicts around issues, ideology, processes and principles.  Affective conflicts originate from people, values or emotions.  Clearly, the latter can be destructive and acrimonious. Such conflicts have the potential to polarise people so that they never find a solution to the conflict. It also diverts energy away from the real value-adding activities and issues.

Cognitive conflict generally ensures that people grow from the conflict and, that the team/group becomes more cohesive as a result of the conflict.

To define the problem and propose a solution to the conflict one needs to understand and identify which of the two conflicts is true. This understanding will guide one on which style to use in resolving the conflict as well as how much effort and work one needs to put in to dealing with neutralising any heightened emotions which may attach themselves to the conflict.   If these are not dealt with, one will more than likely not be able to move beyond any emotions that make themselves felt as part of any conflict.  If this happens, then the conflict will not be resolved and this will cause broken relationships that will not be able to be restored.  If this occurs, it will make whatever the context is that people are interacting very dysfunctional.

So if you are engaged in any conflict, whether as a party to a conflict or as a third party trying to resolve it, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that you take time to understand the conflict in terms of its type and its source.

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