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From an ordinary point of view, the term conflict carries a negative connotation, which is associated with aggression, strong emotions, arguments, threats, hostility, etc. Conflict is considered as an undesirable phenomenon that should be avoided or, at least, resolved without delay. However, conflicts can give an impetus for organizational, team, or individual development. The threat of conflict arises whenever a human factor is present. Conflict is a social phenomenon capable of crucially influencing individuals as well as splitting a society or contributing to its evolution; this depends on the concerned parties’ attitude towards a situation.
If a conflict is not solved properly, it becomes a stumbling block in the communication process. Moreover, intrapersonal conflicts lead to psychological disorders, emotional distress, and physical ailments. To avoid maleficent effects of conflict, it is necessary to understand the essence, the causes and possible solutions of different types of conflicts. Thus, this study aims to achieve the outlined goals.
Literature Review on the Discussed Issues
Conflicts and the related issues have been the subject of interest for many scientists. The problems of interpersonal communications were investigated by Wilmot and Hocker, who have considered their impact on relationships within a family as well as at the workplace. They identify gender and culture as the core reasons of conflict. However, Eunson argues that it is the influence of the previous experience that can push persons to completely opposite solutions. Wilmot and Hocker explain that parental behavior impacts children, who adopt negative stereotypes about marriage and family values. Dana supports them, adding that each couple should set their rules of conduct in conflict situations and move towards a compromise. Cahn and Abigail mention that conflicts at any level should be solved through joint efforts; thus, an active dialogue is the only way to achieve a compromise. Thus, scientific literature explores conflict issues to improve the styles of communication, personal skills and approaches to settle agreements.
Interpretations of Conflict
A conflict is a clash of opposing and incompatible trends in the mind of a single person, in interpersonal interactions or in relationships of individuals or groups associated with acute emotional experience. It is characterized by a desire of the antagonist parties to control and pressure each other. Dana defines a conflict as a struggle between the parties with different objectives and limited resources that is characterized by the intervention of a participant in competitor’s activity.
The game theory views the conflict as a situation of incompatible expectations (claims) that concern persons who play roles in the social structures. The theories of social conflict identify it as a struggle over values and claims due to deficiency of status, power and means in which the targets of opponents are neutralized, restrained or eliminated by their rivals. The positive function of the conflict can embody maintaining of dynamic equilibrium of a social system and its improvement. For this reason, different types of conflict should not undermine the most important values of a group or a community.
Variations of Conflict Including Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Types
Every conflict with its unique characteristics, ways of escalation and solution must be competently addressed, especially if it does not include positive components. Conflicts are classified according to origins, goals, participants, ways of managing, etc. According to one of the classifications, the actors participate in conflicts of danger, obstacle, power, and status. Conflicts are interpreted as those that can be caused by a clash of interests, a misunderstanding, provoking conduct of the parties, or conflict personalities etc.
According to the classical approach, there are five generic types of conflict that determine its levels. Fisher lists them as interpersonal conflict, role conflict, intergroup conflict, multi-party conflict, and international conflict. Intrapersonal conflict sometimes is also included in the list.
- Interpersonal conflict represents a clash inside a group of individuals who are fighting for personal interests. It is the most common type of conflict that is manifested in different ways inside organizations and rises between individuals in the process of their social and psychological interaction. The reasons of interpersonal conflict include socio-psychological (unbalanced interaction between several people) and personal or psychological (focuses on the subjective qualities of an individual that affects a situation).
- Role conflict is usually understood as a situation in which an individual with a certain status confronts with incompatible expectations and is unable to fulfill role requirements. The role theory considers inter-role and intra-role types of conflicts. Inter-role conflict includes tense situations caused by the inability to meet simultaneous requirements of different roles. Intra-role conflict reveals the conflicting requirements that are assigned to the role holder by different social groups with incompatible expectations.
- Intergroup conflict rises inside organizations that consist of various formal and informal groups (in society or organization) with irreconcilable interests and intentions. Its key feature is the higher degree of emotional stress due to reluctance to follow stereotypes or protest against their leveling.
- Multi-party conflict occurs in societies where various interest groups and organizations have different approaches to the management of resources and policy development. These complex conflicts typically involve economic and power components.
- International conflict unites different manifestation forms of the primary subjects’ of international law or non-state actors’ competitive interaction, due to the influence of various geopolitical, geoeconomic, and geostrategic conflicts of the local, regional or global levels. It is supported by propaganda, and may be settled by diplomacy.
In contrast to interpersonal conflict, intrapersonal conflict is a result of ambivalent feelings, unmet needs, interests and behaviors of one individual (Wilmot & Hocker, 2013). It concerns a fight of semantic structures and causes discomfort on an individual level as long as one of the poles begins to dominate.
Forms of Communication to Assist in Avoiding or Mitigating Conflict
Every type of conflict can be settled. Nevertheless, prevention can be the preferable option that must be achieved by the correct communication model implementation. Communication is the basis for creating healthy relationships in a community and preventing or mitigating conflicts. The dialogue background should be formed by laws, norms of ethics and the pursuit of understanding. A person who wants to avoid conflict situations should be able to protect their position but not succumb to arrogance. Teamwork implies the commitment to help partners and treat peacefully the possible differences. The existence of polar viewpoints is quite normal. Maintaining discussions is a healthy practice to find joint solutions. Intentions to win the leadership inside community may lead to role or status conflicts. Thus, the best strategy is to strengthen interpersonal communication links to create credibility. The positive communication skills include attention to interlocutors, respect for partners, subordination to superiors, and openness to fresh ideas and considerations. This approach has obvious advantages over communication aimed at promoting at any cost a personal point of view that is not mutually beneficial.
Individual Conflict Skills and Personal Steps to Improve Them
Conflict is an absolutely normal state for a person who realizes the vital functions while communicating with other persons or groups. At the same time, the development of skills can significantly affect and strengthen personal and professional relationships. The ability to successfully resolve conflicts depends on the following personal skills. Competent management of stress, remaining attentive and calm leads to an accurate identification of verbal and nonverbal signals. Control over behavior, emotions and stress helps to resolve any conflict fruitfully and without threats and brutality. Being attentive to other people’s feelings and identifying the key words in their speech gives an opportunity to meet opponent’s position and make them a partner in the conflict solution process. Rich knowledge, respect for the traditions and avoidance of disrespectful words and actions significantly increase the likelihood of successful settlement.
The ability to manage conflicts can be improved by the following steps. An individual should enrich his or her knowledge about the nature and the types of conflict situations. Communication skills are needed to influence people, maintain friendly relations inside a team, and create an enabling environment for mutual understanding. A person must meet the reasonable requests of the colleagues or partners, learn to forgive, and develop a sense of humor. Those who are ready to give support during peaceful periods will gain more sympathy during conflict times. Thus, personal skills must be improved to avoid and settle any conflict.
Conflict Analysis and the Options for Action
Before a conflict resolving strategy is developed, the situation must be analyzed. It is necessary to define clearly its type, place, causes, and stakeholders in order to foresee the likelihood of additional factors affecting the situation trends. The principal options of solving conflicts depend on their background. However, general recommendations are the following. If some object causes the conflict, it must be excluded to remove the enmity generating stimulus. When misunderstanding arises because of a particular person, he or she should be isolated from the staff to relieve emotional stress. If the conflict reason lies in the incompatibility of interests, communication should be transferred to the operational format of negotiations. Actions must be targeted at changing perception of conflict situation. The issue can be solved with the help of flexible thinking and lack of prejudice.
Benefield defines three principal reactions to the occurred conflict: a fight (could lead to undesirable consequences, including the conflict evolution to a more ambitious level); a slight (ignoring the conflict and waiting until it loses its importance); and to freeze situation (taking a break to think about further actions).
The decision-making process must not be characterized by spontaneity, but should ho through the following stages: the exploration of conflict parameters (sharpness, strength, development paths, and variables), evaluation (to study the parties, their relationship before and during the conflict, interests, goals, and expectations), the impact on conflict (to create conditions for dialogue and positive attitudes and to settle an agreement), and evaluation of the impact (a dialogue with former opponents and the new strategy for the post-crisis communication development).
Conflict saluting should begin with a simple sequence of actions. The situation when a person calms down, discusses a problem and explains the personal position can positively affect the outcome. It will give the constructive impulse to resolve disagreements. Disputes inside family can be resolved only by compromises while intra-organizational conflicts can be regulated by the highest management, which is based on a set of laws and legal rules inside a structure.
Lee emphasizes the role of moral factors in the emergence and resolution of conflicts as well as power’s influence, which can create both the negative and positive situations. Power can be provided as the violent and forced measure to influence contradictors (power over concept) that may irritate counterparts and rip off negotiations; or it can be used due to the joint work approach (power with ideology) that supports the positive solution searching. The concept of power to is studied by Cahn and focuses on sharing the objectivity and empowerment ideals; while the last identification of power impact is connected with its lack and dependence. Yoshimura notes that efficiency of power in dealing with conflicts depends on the availability of various types of resources and the ability to apply them.
The third stage of the decision-making process is accompanied by various methods of conflict resolution. Deutsch, Coleman and Marcus advise to solve disputes using humor and playfulness. Katz, Lawyer and Sweedler emphasize that the emotion containment (which can aggravate any conflict) requires the most effort and can provoke highly stressful situations. The need to control emotions and non-verbal cues is described by Mayer. De Vito advises to use partner’s paraphrased statements and ask to clarify questions to design an agreement. American Psychological Association, as well as Rodriguez and Moreno, claims for forgiveness, which exempts from anger and allows mutual understanding of interlocutors. Ashy, Mercurio and Malley-Morrison highlight that forgiveness depends on the cognitive, behavioral, emotional, social, and spiritual factors. It follows common acceptance and provide friendly attitudes towards each other. However, the described position is not constant in some cases. Reconciliation is a more complex act than forgiveness since it reflects the necessarily reciprocal process. Thus, numerous scientific researches show that the way to mutual settlement includes many aspects because every conflict issue needs a specific approach, and two identical solutions cannot be found.
The exploration of conflict types shows that there is no single universal classification. Conflict is predominantly a type of interpersonal communication that can contribute to the process of individual and social evolution.
Mediation Practice and Strategies
Exploring the ways of solving conflicts, I have learned that negotiations can take a form of mediation as one of the best ways of resolving conflicts. Before studying the conflict solution issue, I thought that mediation cases are inherently relating to disputes between the large companies or the influential customers. I supposed that conflicts within organizations are eliminated by the direct intervention of the highest management. However, due to new knowledge, it becomes clear that mediation between colleagues is one of the most sought-after settlement strategies. For this reason, my attitude to mediation was revised since it is widely used as part of the organizational culture for multilateral negotiations.
Being neutral to the conflicting parties, a mediator helps participants to overcome their differences and reach a constructive conflict resolution, establishing and maintaining direct communication between them. Promoting constructive discussion, a mediator cannot yet determine the selection of final decision, which remains the prerogative of the conflicting sides. There are numerous strategies for mediation. As an example, the following can be mentioned: gathering information about conflicting parties and the subject of discussion; the ripeness-promoting strategy (it encourages negotiating to achieve the mutual benefits); the safe place and right time choosing (aims at creating the most comfortable environment for negotiations); the argumentative position paper preparation (this strategy allows pre-recording of all key points); preparing a client (the customer is informed about the mediator’s actions and behavior rules in order not to disrupt a deal); and the shuttle diplomacy (is used to minimize personal contact between the parties, which may worsen a situation) etc.
A skillful mediator should possess a set of the following qualities: readiness (possession and use of all necessary information), openness and candor (which help to achieve the mutual trust), patience (for clarity of thought), and a desire to reach a compromise (which is the core objective and the best result of negotiations).
Within organizations, negotiation techniques must be used in accordance with the laws of corporate culture and ethics. Mediation is particularly useful because organizational conflicts are multilateral; thus, reaching compromises becomes difficult. An intermediary should follow a neutral position and select a neutral territory to work with colleagues. The issue could be solved much easier away from a place where the conflict has arisen. If the mediator is an employee of the same organization, he must be in good terms with the conflicting parties and encourage them to communicate overtly. The common ground should be defined to reach compromises easier. Overall, the strategies and techniques of mediation in scopes of organization do not differ from similar strategies at the highest levels. The task is simplified by the fact that the mediator and the conflict parties may be colleagues.
The approach towards conflict solution depends on the conflict type; however, in any case, it involves emotional control, manifestation of patience, willingness to compromise, and forgiveness. Everyone can develop personal skills that assist in searching for a compromise and improving friendly communication in favor of mutual understanding. Any conflict can be resolved directly by the parties or through mediator involvement. Mediation is one of the best ways of solving conflicts, because it contributes objectivity to the process of finding solutions that gives hope for the mutually beneficial outcome.