The Classical Theory of Conflict was proposed by Karl Marx, pointing out that class consciousness against oppression causes social conflicts. However modern theories by C Wright Mills points out that: A) conflicts are influenced by unequal sharing of resources and power in the society. B) Integration between the elite powers of the government (thereby increasing their power), both of which can result in an escalation of conflict.
Conflict can be understood as a type of disagreement/ argument/ incompatibility of opinions, principles or interest, causing dissonance within a group. Or a situation the actions or beliefs adhered to by individual(s) are are deemed unacceptable or are resisted by others. Conflicts can be either Interpersonal, Intra Group or Inter Group. The conflicts can often foster the feeling of hatred (Mas & Dijkstra, 2014).
Eunson (2012), suggests that conflict can have both positive and negative effects. The obvious negative effects are formation of negative emotions, communication blocks or failures, stereotyping of people (with whom the conflict is), a reduction in coordination, shift towards autocracy and an impaired ability to empathize, and understand the perspectives of others. The positive effects are that it allows the release of vent up emotions, help to form new perspectives from the opposing side or from the same side, this can help in better decision making and problem resolution skills which can in turn improve cohesion, challenge complacency and allow new changes to take place. Conflicts can also help to really appreciate the differences and diversity of the human mind, and provide insight as to how interpersonal conflicts can be mitigated. Conflicts can occur due to scarcity of resource, adversity, bad communication, perception of difference and biology (Eunson 2012).
Conflict management is the process of mitigating the negative effects of a conflict and enhancing the positive effects of it. A proper Conflict Management practice can ensure enhanced learning outcomes, better performance, and cohesion.
Initial phase (pre conflict or latent conflict stage)- this is evidenced by a neutral or calm stance, where a claim or argument made by one party can be considered unacceptable or offensive by the other party (Spaho, 2013). For example in case of Conflict #1, my girlfriend was insistent upon having the next vacation on a beach, for the third consecutive year. In case of Conflict #2, I suggested my colleague to take care of the initial planning of the project while ill work on the final execution, which he found unacceptable.
Initial Claim or Confrontation (a challenge or an attack)- evidenced by the attack on opinion of the the party making the initial suggestion, an accusatory stance is adopted, causing provocation and interruption of the initial speaker (Van Emersen & Houtlosser, 2015). Discussions or debates can work at this stage. In conflict #1. I was almost immediate in pointing out to my girlfriend that the last two vacations were also near the sea, as per wishes, and even the year before on a cruise ship. I made a confrontational stance, interrupting her statement, saying that “This time, it’s going to be my choice, we had that decided before”. In conflict #2: My co worker made an accusatory stance that I am giving him the more difficult task, while I am assuming the easier one, which is not fair to him.
Response to Accusation- here the initial party responds to the initial accusation (Skipper, Smith, Urdang & Buren, 2014). The response can be varied depending on the person’s state of mind, and be anywhere between a smiling response and an angry scorn. A surprise or shock to the initial argument can also occur, depending on the situation. In Conflict #1 my girlfriend was shocked that I could so easily refute her wishes so quickly, even knowing how much the particular vacation spot was important for her. Her response was that “it was the one thing I requested this year, after all I have done for you, and you just brushed me off!”. In conflict #2 I adopted a more polite stance, and informed my colleague smilingly that if he feels there was an unequal sharing of work load, he can suggest how we share the work. I also informed that my plan was based on our current expertise, and hence I felt it would have been more efficient if we followed my plan. I did not want by colleague to feel that he was being cheated, or I was being unfair to him.
At this stage the patience generally becomes lesser, and arguments/counterarguments are thrown around by both parties, causing an overlapping of conversations. At this stage a possibility of a quarrel arises, and the tension rises because if it. In conflict #1: The argument lead to a quarrel between me and my girlfriend, where I accused her of “only caring what she wants” and her notion that I was being “insensitive”. Our conversation kept going in circles after that, with none of us able to convince the other. In Conflict #2 my colleague seemed to have taken my opinion positively, and agreed that we can work as per the initial plan I made, but only after a few adjustments he would suggest. I felt that was justified and valid, and hence agreed to his terms, inviting him to share what changes he would like to implement on my plan. The Conflict therefore ended at stage 3. And so at Stage 4, the argument was a constructive one, involving the discussion about possible changes in the work plan.
Climax- here both the parties are fully involved in the conflict, and generally evidenced by an even more tension and lack of patience among the parties (Allwood, & Ahls?n, 2015). Often showering ensues from the situation, along with standing up or leaning forward, and taking an offensive stance. In conflict #1: The climax of my conflict with my girlfriend was evidenced by both of us being very angry at each other, and stopping the conversation. In conflict #2 the climax was with me accepting the proposed plan, thereby resolving the discord.
Win/Lose – When one of the arguing parties was successful/ unsuccessful in making the other party agrees, and therefore wins or lost the argument and conflict. The winning party often takes a stance of superiority. In conflict #1: We finally agreed to have a vacation in the mountains, with my girlfriend having a feeling of resentment, and I was exhibiting a feeling of superiority to have won the argument. In conflict #2 Both my colleague and I learnt a vital way how to deal with conflicts, came up with a better working plan, and helped increase the cohesion as a team. The ensue was that we both felt better, and there was no resentment due to the conflict.
Managing Conflict can be done in 5 different styles: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding or accommodating (Thomas, 2016). These styles can be utilized by a following these steps:
First is the Identification of the learning (informal or incidentive) opportunity that the conflict brings by having a positive outlook about the conflict (Marsick & Watkins, 2015). In conflict #2, I was able to identify that I can gain a different perspective into the planning and execution of our project from my co-worker’s inputs. In conflict #1 however, I had an adamant stance, and did not want to consider the possibility that I could have liked the vacation spot my girlfriend preferred. So, wasn’t able to identify the opportunity in that conflict. We could have also agreed upon a vacation spot that would have proximity to both the sea and mountains.
Secondly, a culture that is conducive of sharing of healthy feedback can also ensure proper communication of expectations and preferences, and can reduce the chances of conflicts that happen due to bad communication. In scenario #2, I preferred to acknowledge my co worker’s feedback and make him feel his opinions are being valued as much as mine. This was effective in reducing the discord, and helped me to understand his perspective. In conflict #1, a communication breakdown prevented the exchange of feedback. I could have asked my girlfriend why she felt I was being insensitive, instead of imposing my conclusion, and taken her response as a feedback.
Thirdly, Being proactive, but not hurrying into conclusions before a full understanding of both the sides of the argument has been properly understood (Li et al., 2014). Also, the choice of words how the arguments are put can help to alleviate the tension, and mitigate unnecessary problems. In conflict #2, Both my colleague and I were proactive in expressing our views, using careful selection of words, keeping in mind the professional code of conduct, and avoiding any escalation. However, in conflict #1, the conversation escalated into a quarrel very quickly, with neither of us willing to empathize the other’s stance. I could have taken a less defensive and more open stance, instead of aggravating the situation.
Fourthly, giving adequate attention to the conflict can allow handling the situation with more seriousness, and diligence (Chedozie, 2013). This can facilitate the comprehension of the stance made by the opposing party, and hence mitigate the conflict better. In both scenario #1 and #2, seriousness was evident from both sides, however the success of the conflict management in each scenario was effected by the differences in other aspects of the conflict mentioned above.
Lastly, being self critical can allow retrospection upon the stance of self, and identify and loophole or issues with it, and if the stance needs to be reviewed (Rand & Kraft-Todd, 2014). In scenario #2, I was able to critically view my opinions about the division or work between my co worker and me when my colleague showed resistance towards the plan I proposed. It allowed me to appreciate that the plan had further scope of improvement, which could have a positive impact on the work. In conflict #1 however, we both were defensive in our stance, and was not open to self reflection and self criticism, until much later, and a reluctant agreement on the solution. Which could have been averted if I could recognize what exactly made her upset?
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