Conflict is nothing but a form of friction, disagreement or discord between two or more individuals. It is a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect something that the first party cares about.
Conflicts are quite common and natural in all walks of our lives. It is present both in our personal and professional lives and off course it’s quite unavoidable as well when we live, interact or work together as a group or as partners.
These conflicts don’t take shape overnight, they build over a period. A small disagreement or difference of opinion, miscommunication, and breach of trust, ego, stress, and tensions might lead to a big conflict between two people. After all it’s linked with human emotions and their perception.
Conflict is thus outlined as a clash between individuals arising out of a difference in thought process, attitudes, understanding, interests, requirements and even sometimes perceptions. Conflict becomes a problem when it - hampers productivity, lowers morale, causes more and continued conflicts and causes inappropriate behaviours.
Conflict is often needed as it - helps to raise and address problems, energizes work to be on the most appropriate tasks, helps people “be real” and motivates them to participate and helps people learn how to recognize and benefit from their differences.
Most of the conflicts arise from differences, both large and small. Conflict arises as many individuals have differences in values, opinions, needs, interests and are unable to find a middle way or concur with. When individuals disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires, conflict is most likely to occur.
Sometimes these differences appear trivial, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings, a deep personal need is often at the core of the problem, for example: the need to feel safe and secure or respected and valued etc. Conflict occurs in ‘layers’ and the first layer is always misunderstanding.
The other layers are differences of values, differences of viewpoint, differences of interest, and interpersonal differences. Conflict is treated as a process because it begins with one party perceiving the other to oppose or negatively affect its interests and ends with competing, collaborating, compromising or avoiding.
Conflicts might originate from a variety of sources. However, the common causes for majority of conflicts are: perceived breach of faith and trust between individuals, disagreements that has escalated to an emotional level, miscommunication leading to unclear expectations, differences in personalities, acquired values, underlying stress and tensions and ego problems.
Even though the relationship conflict and process conflict are harmful, task conflict is found to be beneficial since it encourages diversity of opinions, provided it does not develop into process or relationship conflict. As mentioned, conflict occurs in stages as a process over a period of time.
This process may be grouped into five major stages as enlisted: Latent Stage where participants are not yet aware of a brewing conflict; Perceived Stage where participants are aware that a conflict exists; Felt Stage where participants are now under stress and anxiety due to the conflict; Manifestation Stage where conflict remains open and can be observed by everyone; Aftermath Stage, it is the outcome of conflict, whether resolution or dissolution.
We normally respond to conflicts based on our perceptions of the situation, not necessarily with an objective review of the facts. It is because our perceptions are influenced by our life experiences, culture, values, and beliefs. Conflicts trigger strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort. If one is not comfortable with one’s emotions or able to manage them in times of stress, it becomes a difficult task to resolve conflict successfully.
Conflicts when handled in an unhealthy manner can cause irreparable rifts, resentments, and break-ups in individuals. The effective resolution of Conflicts depends on one’s ability in managing stress while remaining alert and calm, controlling emotions and behavior, paying attention to the other’s feelings and by avoiding disrespectful words and actions, one can almost always find a solution to resolve a problem.
Please note that a conflict cannot be resolved if you do not first understand the causes of conflict. Only when a diagnosis of the root cause is done, one will be able to propose alternate solutions. Sometimes an individual may not be aware of the need and starts unconsciously acting out.
Other times, the individual may be very much aware of what he or she wants and act accordingly. In both the situations, it is always better to identify conflict at an early stage and come to an understanding.
When people are in a conflict, the words they speak rarely convey the issues at the heart of the problem. But by paying close attention to the other person’s non-verbal communication or “body language,” such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice, one can better understand what the other person is really saying or intend to say. This approach helps us to respond in a way that builds trust and gets to the root of the problem. An individual’s ability to accurately read another person depends on his/her own emotional awareness.
The more aware one is about their own emotions, the easier it will be for him /her to pick up on the wordless clues that reveal what others are feeling. Think about what you would be transmitting to others during a conflict, and if what you say matches your body language. For example, if you say “I’m Okay,” but you clench your teeth and don’t look face to face, then your body is clearly signaling that you are anything but “Okay.” Instead, a calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or a pleasant facial expression can go a long way toward relaxing a tense exchange of words.
The process of managing and resolving conflict becomes an easy task when you actively listen, you can connect more deeply to your own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Active listening strengthens, informs, and makes it easier for others to hear you when it’s your turn to speak. Our priority should always be to maintain and strengthen the relationship, rather than focusing on winning an argument, or being right.
If one holds on to grudges based on his /her past conflicts, their ability to see the reality of the current situation will become biased and impaired. Instead of looking into the past and blaming, focusing on what we can do in the present situation will take us nearer to solving the problem. Conflict resolution becomes impossible if one is unwilling or unable to forgive others.
Resolution lies in coming out of the urge to punish, which only serves to deplete and drain one’s peaceful life. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on. Understand that it takes two people to keep an argument going and if they can’t come to an agreement, or agree to disagree on a thing, it is better to let it go and focus on something really important.
The basic skills that are required for effective conflict management and resolution are: one’s ability to understand their own feelings and of others, that help a person to handle those feelings well. People with high emotional intelligence are good at identifying and meeting the needs of others while taking responsibility for their own needs and feelings. Much of the unnecessary conflicts can be avoided simply with clear, accurate written or verbal communication; a single email that is lost could lead to a failed plan or strategy and fingers pointed.
Sometimes, being a good listener can simply be enough to inspire trust and resolve negative feelings. One’s ability to see a situation from someone else’s viewpoint, and to understand their needs, motivations, and possible misunderstandings, is very critical for effective management of conflicts. Conflict often occurs because no one comes up with a suitable and practical solution.
Understanding conflict alone does not help much if you don’t have a workable solution for the underlying problem. Resolving a conflict depends on creating an amicable solution. Everyone encounters with conflict, some or other way. However, diagnosing conflict is not only a science; it is an “art.” A common misconception is that we understand the reasons for conflict and therefore its resolution. In many instances conflicts may not be understandable and therefore are not resolvable. There is no secret formula that will resolve all conflicts.
The aim of every conflict resolution practice, similar to the practice of medicine, is to first diagnose the cause of the conflict and then try to mitigate or resolve the problems it creates.
In other words, everyone is correct, truthful, and honest in his or her point of view yet, everyone is equally incomplete and limited in their ability to understand. Strong feelings, emotions and perceptions often interfere with one’s reasoning and objectivity.
It is evident from the fact that in majority of the cases conflict has nothing to do with the people involved in it. As a general rule, most conflict is the result of the system.
Depersonalizing conflict although is a hard work, it is considered the starting point for a conflict to be effectively managed. While, negotiating one should be mindful not to react with anger or frustration, but to respond to other’s point of view.
If what you seek conflicts with the other person’s ideas, you may have to discuss how sacrifices can be made to arrive at a better result for both of you in the long run. Aim to reach a compromise which results in a win-win situation.
Taking control of social situations in such a way where both parties feel comfortable with the outcome is an important tact. One should not try to prove other party wrong.
Favour ‘logic and fact’ over ‘personal opinion’. Keep your preferred outcome in mind, remember to be assertive as being tactful does not mean bowing to pressure or giving up on what you want. While engaged in negotiation, it is important to set suggestive goals and try to find creative ways to achieve goals of both parties through creative solutions.
Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant from Raiyar Doodhpathri.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.