Consider This Conflict Theory To Manage Conflict

Conflict is all around us, ranging from simple situations such as who left the dishes in the sink to major international disputes. There is a conflict theory that common stages are passed through as conflict develops. Here is one example:

Stages of Conflict

  1. Discomfort
    John feels that his manager, Gerard, does not keep him informed of what is happening in the business. John works primarily offsite with customers and can be away for long periods of time.
  2. Incident
    Gerard promotes Ann, John's colleague, based on her qualifications and experience.
  3. Misunderstanding
    John feels he missed out on the promotion he was expecting. He believes that this is because he is not based in the home office on a full time basis and he has been treated unfairly. He becomes mistrustful and negative towards his manager.
  4. Tension
    John's enthusiasm for the job starts to decrease. He does "what is necessary" to get by at work. His commitment to the business is diminished. Gerard becomes increasingly frustrated by John's attitude.
  5. Crisis
    Gerard challenges John over a customer complaint, words are exchanged and tempers flare.

When conflict reaches a crisis stage, a lot of time and effort is needed to get it resolved. Too often we avoid dealing with situations at the discomfort stage. We bury our feelings and don't discuss what is on our mind, hoping that the situation will resolve itself.

It is so much easier to communicate before resentment has started to grow. As a manager, be alert to conflict in its early stages and take steps to prevent it from escalating. This means being open to the other person's views, avoiding judgements and discussing until a resolution is reached for both parties.

Complex Conflict

There is a conflict theory that suggests mapping the issue can help in a complex situation, where many parties and interests are involved. This involves four stages:

  1. Identify the issue
  2. Identify who is involved
  3. List the major needs and concerns of each party
  4. Categorise the tangible needs (which can be traded) or intangible needs (such as work needed on building relationships)

If you map this as shown in the diagram, then you can look for areas where there is common agreement and areas which need to be given priority. 

It will help you to build an action plan and move the conflict into a more productive phase. 

It is important to respect and value differences, keep a broad perspective and recognise that this work may need a long timeframe.

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