Can You Locate Opportunity in Conflict?
We are surrounded by conflict every day, whether we are having disputes at work or watching a sports match. While we may hate being in the middle of conflict ourselves, we would equally despise a world in which everyone agreed. Conflict often brings with it opportunity, and if we can see the possibilities, we can harness the opportunities from situations that may seem negative at first glance
Interpersonal conflict has been defined as “an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals.” Conflict can exist on an Inter-personal and intra-personal level, Inter-group and intra-group level, it can also be competitive or disruptive. Three primary types of conflict include personal or relational conflicts, instrumental conflicts and conflicts of interest. Personal or relational conflicts are usually about identity or self-image, or important aspects of a relationship such as loyalty, breach of confidence, perceived betrayal or lack of respect. Instrumental conflicts are about goals, structures, procedures and means – something fairly tangible and structural within the organisation or for an individual. Conflicts of interest concern the ways in which the means of achieving goals are distributed, such as time, money, space and staff. They may also be about factors related to these, such as relative importance, or knowledge and expertise.
Conflict and Teamwork
Conflict involves feelings and emotions potentially arising from you or others feeling under-appreciated, being taken for granted, an atmosphere of uncertainty in the environment, tacit allowance of poor performance or bad behaviour, misinformation or misperception. Conflict in the workplace can be incredibly destructive to good teamwork. Managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in situations where co-operation breaks down and the team’s mission is threatened. This is particularly the case where the wrong approaches to conflict resolution are used. To calm these situations down, it helps to take a positive approach to conflict resolution, where discussion is courteous and non-confrontational, and the focus is on issues rather than on individuals. The benefits of resolving conflict successfully include increased understanding, increased group cohesion and improved self-knowledge. Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals in close detail, helping them understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness. However, if conflict is not handled effectively, the results can be damaging. Conflicting goals can quickly turn into personal dislike. Teamwork breaks down. Talent is wasted as people disengage from their work. And it is easy to end up in a vicious downward spiral of negativity and recrimination.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze
In personal relationships, conflicts and arguments will not necessarily jeopardize a relationship. In fact, there are times when disagreements can actually bring a couple closer together. The key is in how you and your partner decide to handle the conflict. Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in Fight, Flight, or Freeze behaviours. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flee and avoid important issues by sweeping them under the carpet. Sometimes, after endless arguments with no resolution in sight, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes in a relationship typically goes through the motions on the outside, but has stopped caring on the inside. Unresolved conflict can lead to resentment and additional unresolved conflict in the relationship. Even more important, ongoing conflict can actually have a negative impact on your health and longevity. Poor conflict management can lead to higher production of the stress hormone cortisol, and also cause hardening of the arteries, leading to increased risk of heart attacks, and high blood pressure. Learning to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive way, without excessive stress, is therefore an important way to improve your well-being as well as your relationships.
Where is the opportunity in Conflict?
Conflict is a normal, inescapable part of life, a periodic occurrence in any relationship and an opportunity to understand opposing preferences and values. Scarce resources, conflicting attitudes, ambiguous jurisdictions, communication barriers, the need for consensus, unresolved prior conflicts and lack of knowledge of self and others are all antecedent conditions for conflict. Well managed conflicts stimulate competition, identify legitimate differences and become a powerful source of motivation. Conflict can be used as a springboard for dialogue and rallying a team of people to talk about what is on their minds. Conflict therefore becomes an energising necessity as it forces people out of their comfort zones. Conflict can help improve productivity when team members who are in disagreement are given an opportunity by the leadership to realise how their actions and problems are holistically impacting productivity. Conflict can provide opportunities for negotiations. Negotiations often start with conflict—conflict with or among employees; conflict with suppliers or conflict with customers. You can improve your opportunities for successful negotiations by gathering information to learn as much as you can about the situation, clarifying the levels of understanding, and looking at both sides of the story. Conflict also provides an opportunity for growth.
Whilst on-going conflict can hinder operations and cause people to shut down, the more knowledge gained about how other individuals or team members prefer to deal with conflict, the more that conflict resolution skills develop to handle strategic and future challenges. Within organisations conflict can improve your meetings when team-building exercises, such as brainstorming or mind-mapping are used to get to the root of problems. Within personal relationships conflict enables previously hidden issues to be exposed and dealt with resulting in closer bonding and understanding of each other’s needs.