By R. C. Sharma
Not all conflict is bad. Some conflict situations might be use to arrive at new, more effective corporate strategies
Conflict is an integral part of life and may occur within the individual, between individuals, between the individual and a group or between groups. While conflict is generally perceived as being dysfunctional, it can be seen as beneficial if it makes an issue to be viewed from different perspectives. The current view is that if there is no conflict, the issue has not been thoroughly examined. Take the case of a son who wants to study management while his father insists that he take the civil services examination instead. The issue can be resolved if both sit and examine it against parameters such as aptitude, family income, and the existing job market. When faced with a conflict, instead of feeling averse to it, try to resolve it, applying techniques discussed here.
TYPES OF CONFLICT
Conflict may be broadly categorized as:
(c) Group conflicts
The self generates conflicts that lead to a variety of complications. Consider the following categories.
Approach-avoidance conflict: A fresh MBA from Karnataka has been offered a managerial job in a leading bank in Mizoram. Here he has an attractive opportunity for a job in a reputed bank (an approach situation).
At the same time he will have to live in a distant place that is not entirely peaceful (avoidance situation). The nature of conflict here is the approach-avoidance type.
Approach-approach conflict: This happens when a person is faced with a situation where he has to choose between equally attractive propositions. For instance, a person faces such a conflict when he has to choose between going to the cinema to see an interesting film with his family and to a picnic organized by his best friends.
A conflicting situation may arise between spouses, parent and child, between relatives, friends or colleagues.
Conflict due to personality differences: A woman comes into conflict with her husband who is excessively authoritarian in his dealings or imposes unreasonable restrictions on her. Similarly, a person faces a conflict situation if a relative/friend breaks a promise leading to inconvenience or loss (dishonoring a social contract).
Task-related conflict: A conflict may arise between spouses regarding childcare or household duties. Among colleagues it may be a question of responsibilities not carried out by one that is blamed on another.
Conflicts between individual and a group: In a housing colony residents’ association, one member suggests aggressive step against a water-supply official, but other members disagree.
Conflict between groups: Conflicts may arise between two trade unions or between the union and management.
CONFLICT BETWEEN ORGANISATIONS:
The classic example is the ‘cola-war’ that created a conflict situation between two giant corporations.
SOURCES OF CONFLICT
The traditional and most common source of conflict is competition for limited resources. This may be for money, material or even men (high-ranking government officials resign and join the corporate sector, for instance). But conflict may also be due to competition for intangibles such as power, prestige or status.
Diversity of goals may sometimes bring conflict between affected parties. The wife wants to learn classical dance but her husband wants her to devote her time and energy to the household and to himself. Sometimes differences in attitude, values and perception lead to conflicting situations.
The boss demands the employee’s loyalty and devotion but the employee feels his interests are not being adequately looked after and therefore he need only work-to-rule.
Situational change causes great stress and generates conflict. After childbirth, the husband may feel neglected by his wife and the situation leads to conflict.
Sometimes personality characteristics create conflicting situations. Persons with aggressive or autocratic natures are potential sources of conflict.
THE CONFLICT PROCESS
The first stage may be seen as a result of competition for limited resources and individual differences in values, attitude or goals. However, the mere presence of a condition does not lead to conflict. It has to be perceived with feelings of threat, fear or hostility.
This may be followed by either conflictive or conflict management behavior. It may result in one party blocking the goal of the other. Conflict management behavior includes withdrawal, compromise, and confrontation.
RESPONSES TO CONFLICT
There are three basic categories of responses to deal with conflicting situations. In conflict-avoidance response one or all concerned parties keep the conflict from coming to a head. When you are criticized, you ignore it or take the other person for a brisk walk instead. In conflict-diffusion response the party concerned may try to cool the situation. It is basically a delaying tactic and it is possible to delay the flare-up indefinitely.
In the conflict-confrontations response, problem-solving methods are applied where both parties discuss the problem and try to find mutually agreeable solutions.
CONFLICT RESOLVING STYLES
Maya Pilkington, author of Test Your Business Skills, describes the following styles that people adopt to resolve conflict:
The brick wall approach: When a conflict looms, the brick wall type withdraws behind personal defences, refusing to get involved.
The ramrod approach: The ramrod type builds up steam to force the issue. He fights and tries to dominate the situation because he will feel weak if he loses an argument.
The feather-bed approach: The feather-bed type gets out the metaphorical oil to pour on the troubled waters. He hates to see anyone in conflict and tries to smooth ruffled feathers and makes soothing noises.
The compromise approach: The compromiser hates extremes. He looks for the middle ground and expects to give up something in order to gain something.
The wise old bird approach: The wise one spends time to resolve conflicts, confronting all the issues with courage and the clear intention of learning something in the process.
AVOIDING UNPRODUCTIVE CONFLICTS
The following strategies are recommended by M. Robert, author of Conflict Management Style Survey to avoid unproductive conflicts:
• Avoid being judgmental.
• Deal with the present problem rather than past or potential injustices. Pay attention to the nonverbal content of communication.
• Use ‘I’ messages to describe behaviours, feelings and effects. For example, ‘When I did not receive a call from you, I feared the deal was off’, not, ‘you never return calls’.
• Practise strategic openness about feelings.
• Choose your words carefully.
• Allow the other party to withhold information about feelings. This will, paradoxically, allow revealing of withheld feelings.
• Restate what the other party says.
• Actively listen to the other party.
• Use questions of clarification; avoid accusatory questions.
• Break the interruption habit by using silence and delayed response.
• Do not fear to tell others that they are correct about something.
• Avoid interpreting others’ motives.
• Refrain from giving advice.
HANDLING UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICTS
However hard we may try, conflicts are a fact of life. The following techniques can help in coping with them:
Systematic desensitisation: Perform relaxation techniques, vividly imagining the impending conflict until you become tense and then resume the relaxation techniques. Repeat until the crisis has passed.
‘Psyching down’ through relaxation: Condition yourself to relax when crises are imminent.
Centring and self-monitoring: When conflict strikes, ask yourself whether you are in touch with your inner emotions, whether you are focused on the here and now rather than what may happen or has already happened and whether your body language expresses self-control.
Putting it in perspective: Believing that ‘this too shall pass’ can be liberating. Situations rarely turn out as badly as anticipated.
Examining ogres: The worst ogres are in our minds. Identifying and exploring the worst case scenario can restore emotional equilibrium.
Thought-stopping or diversion: By rationally blocking anxiety-producing thoughts, we can restore our emotional equilibrium.
DEALING WITH A LOSING SITUATION
The best remedy in such a situation is to engage in a physical activity (a brisk walk or even energetic cleaning-up will work). Pleasant music, an absorbing hobby or the company of friends, are good diversions. One may try thought-control by letting negative thoughts leave the mind. Meditation and prayer also have a calming and healing effect.
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