Sources of Conflict
Substantive conflict is defined as a breakdown in the decision making process. That is, an alternative cannot be chosen. Therefore, conflict manifests itself in a disagreement over alternatives (positions).
However, conflict has its roots causes in one of two types of disagreements:
- Criteria, interests, goals
- Cause/Effect beliefs, theories, assumptions
While substantive conflict may be resolved when a decision is made, emotive conflict may still exist. Emotive conflict is the emotional or affective orientation to the other party resulting from the conflict over issues. It results in an affective orientation to the other party that is often stored long after the issues are resolved and forgotten. It manifests itself in we/they feelings, distrust, stereotyping, anger, information withholding and distortion and a general desire the "beat" the other side on future issues.
Methods of Conflcit Resolution
- Forcing: Conflict is resolved when one party is successful in achieving its own interests at the expense of the other party's interest through the use of high relative power. Often linked to the personality trait of aggressiveness.
- Withdrawal: Conflict is resolved when one party attempts to satisfy the concerns of other by neglecting its own interests or goals. Generally associated with a passive personality.
- Smoothing: An unassertive approach in which both parties neglect the concerns involved by sidestepping the issue or postponing the conflict or choosing not to deal with it.
- Compromise: An intermediate approach in which partial satisfaction is sought for both parties through a “middle ground” position that reflects mutual sacrifice.
- Integrative Decision Making/Problem solving: Cooperative mode that attempts to satisfy the interests of both parties. In terms of process, this is generally accomplished through identification of "interests" and freeing the process from initial "positions". Once interests are identified, the process moves into a phase of generation of creative alternatives designed to satisfy of interests (criteria) identified. See Decision Making notes for further clarification
Roles in Conflict
Arbitrator- The arbitrator resolves the conflict by actually making the decision for the parties. Each party may advocate a position or interest to the arbitrator. A group leader may decide to take on this role to resolve intra-group conflict.
Mediator/Facilitator- A successful mediator attempts to re-focus the parties from positions to interests. The mediator starts by determining the true reasons (interest) why they are so committed to their given positions. Once the problem is defined in terms of interests, the mediator attempts to engage both parties in the process of generating new alternatives that satisfy the interests of both parties.
Advocate- The advocate attempts to influence the decision of an individual or group. The advocate either argues for a position (specific alternative) or interest (ensure that the choice satisfies a specific criterion). The successful advocate either operates from a strong base of power, thus reducing the importance of the specific issues, or uses powers of persuasion to effect the decision. In using persuasion, he or she either convinces the decision maker that a specific criterion should be added or given more weight or convinces the decision maker to change his or her theory. Knowledge of the decision maker’s actual criteria and theories (cause/effect beliefs) are important to the effective advocate.
Task - Relationship Tradeoff
One way to think about two dimensions, or outcome, of a conflict decision. These two dimensions are:
- Task- How important accomplishment of the task (accomplishment of a goal, maintenance of a value, an interest) is to you. This can vary from very important (High) to total indifference (Low). Low task importance is often the results when you are relatively indifferent to the options being considered.
- Relationship- How important is maintenance of the relationship
with the other party to you? The following range exists along the relationship
- Low-The relationship is conditional, that is you are willing to maintain the relationship as long as it is instrumental in satisfying your interests.
- High- The relationship is unconditional in that you wish to maintain it regardless of the short term exchange and satisfaction derived from it. Your willingness to maintain the relationship is not dependent upon the behavior of the other party.
The chart below shows the relationship between Task and Relationship Importance and the type of conflict resolution mechanism likely to be used.Most conflicts are resolved below the red line.This line represents the perceived trade of between Task Accomplishment and Relationship Maintenance. It is only when we operate above the line (in the Problem Solving Zone) do we realize long term effectiveness.One will only operate in this zone when he or she places both high importance on the task and the relationship and is unwilling to sacrifice one for the other. It is through framing the conflict in terms of interests rather than positions that this increased effectiveness begins to be realized.