Resolving Conflict

As you read this article, pay attention to the section on the phases of conflicts. Taking preventative steps during the potential conflict and gestation phases can help you avoid conflict escalation and barriers that could become insurmountable. The article also discusses barriers to conflict resolution. Differences of opinion may remain, but interest in the common good should prevail and help participants surmount real or perceived roadblocks.

Conflict is an ever-present process in human relations. Conflict may define, maintain, and strengthen group boundaries. It often promotes group distinctiveness and increases group solidarity and cohesion.

Changing Nature of Conflict

Theories and discussions surrounding conflict were once only conducted in terms of the efficiency and productivity of organizations, enterprises, and the organizational environment. But policies are no longer made in isolation. Globalization has made conflict a universal and worldwide process that involves all types of stakeholders and is not limited to groups or nations, but triggered by ethnic, religious, racial, and economic differences. We have redefined and updated conflict resolution to help resolve international conflicts and disagreements among stakeholders.

Phases of Conflict

  1. Potential Conflict Phase: During this stage, conflict is present at a very low level of intensity. Structural factors and underlying causes create division among groups along socioeconomic, cultural, and political lines. While mobilization of collective discontentment has begun, it is unorganized. Preventive action during this stage is not risky and has high potential payoff.
  2. Gestation Phase: Consolidation of mobilization is characteristic in this phase as inter-group relations are politicized and popular mobilization pressures decision-makers to address their concerns. Group polarization increases, but issues are still negotiable. Preventive actions may be costly, but the potential payoff is still positive.
    Triggering and Escalation Phase There is a real and visible change in the group's economic, social, and political conditions which can trigger or escalate conflict. Inter-elite ties break down and social interactions focus on organized reaction as political exchanges fade and conflicting parties lose confidence in each other. Stakeholders feel they can no longer compromise. Intervention at this phase becomes risky and costly.
  3. Post-Conflict Phase During this phase preventive interventions aim to reestablish channels of communication among conflicting groups to avoid a new round of conflict. Communications may become less formal. A lack of information and incentives to act quickly can create barriers to resolving conflicts.

Conflict Resolution at the Micro Level

Intra-Organizational Level

These conflicts occur within organizations.

Task Conflict

Disagreement caused by a lack of clear communication or direction from superiors to subordinates. Some orders may lie outside their "zone of acceptance". Leaders can resolve conflicts by clarifying communication with subordinates. Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933), an American management consultant, offered three ways to resolve conflicts.

  1. Domination – Only one party wins (usually the stronger one). This type of conflict resolution should be avoided because the weaker party remains disgruntled, which could prove disastrous in the long run.
  2. Compromise – Where no party benefits, but each side settles on a temporary, short-term solution. The conflicts will usually keep building internally and could become more dangerous when they resurface. The conflicts may become unmanageable and impossible to settle.  Follett rarely recommends this conflict resolution method.
  3. Integration – Follett believes this is the most constructive type of conflict resolution. There is a feeling that each of the conflicting sides has achieved a win-win solution and each believes their issues have been addressed in a positive way. This is the best long-term solution.

The Process of Integration (in detail)

This process unfolds in three steps:

  1. A conflict surfaces and an existing issue is identified.
  2. Analysis of the conflict and development of a solution. The solution should not leave any room for the existing conflict to resurface or for a new conflict to arise. It should benefit all. A circular response should give every member the opportunity to vent their feelings so they feel heard.
  3. Anticipation of results.

Hindrances to the Smooth Implementation of the Process of Integration
  1. It requires high degree of knowledge and analysis.
  2. It requires high order of creativity and innovation.
  3. It may require more resources.
  4. Superiors may have the tendency to continue domination.
  5. True integration may not be achieved as groups may not agree to substitution.
  6. Rushing to the application of scheme may create problems as its proper comprehension may require time.
  7. Groups may feel inadequately represented, but may not show their concerns at the time when integration seems to have been achieved.

Inter-Group Conflict

Refers to the relationships among people/teams in an organization, outside the task level. This is inevitable, so manage a six-step process for optimal group maintenance.

  1. Recognition and acknowledgment that conflict exists
  2. Analysis of the existing situation
  3. Facilitation of communication
  4. Negotiation
  5. Provision for necessary adjustments, reinforcements, confirmations
  6. Realization of living with conflicts as all conflicts cannot be resolved

Procedural Conflict

Occurs when group members disagree about the best procedure to follow to accomplish the group goal. Solutions to this type of conflict include the following:

  1. Formulate new procedures and suggest a new agenda.
  2. Modify the group goal.

Higher management decision-makers often believe that taking these steps to resolve task conflict is productive, allows stakeholders to adopt reforms, and can help the group accomplish goals more efficiently.

Inter-Organizational Conflicts

Now let's discuss inter-organization conflicts or conflicts that occur among two or more organizations. It has two aspects.

1. Environment of the Particular Organization

Two organizations may work in the same environment but have clashing goals. For example, the Scheduled Tribes Act 2005 concerns the rights of the forest. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is concerned that increasing numbers of rural people moving to live and work in the forests will cause forest depletion. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is concerned about the livelihood of the tribal population. These incompatible goals create conflict that leads to jurisdictional disputes regarding control over areas given to tribals.

2. Institutional Pluralism

Many service delivery agencies operate in the same domain to promote efficient governance and government services. They compete with each other in the private and public spheres. However, it is easy to confuse the terms conflict and competition which are caused by individuals striving toward incompatible goals. The difference lies in the interference that hinders individuals from attaining their goals. Competitors follow established rules and regulations, while those who are in conflict do not.

Conflict Management at the Macro Level

  1. Policymaking is a form of conflict resolution. Fewer conflicts arise when interest groups, protest groups, civil society, and policy initiative stakeholders can democratically review and achieve suitable policy solutions.
  2. Offer proactive conflict resolution. Catch the conflict when it is young instead of letting it escalate.
  3. Incorporate conflict management systems.
  4. Strengthen government and non-government institutions to tackle conflict.
  5. Create a central coordinating point for conflict resolution efforts. For example, the Indian prime minister's office often intervenes in conflicts among ministries.
  6. Include strong system evaluation and monitoring mechanisms.
  7. Build the capacity of individuals and institutions.
  8. Increase people's participation as much as possible
  9. Engage civil society organizations
  10. Engage international organizations of conflict resolution (United Nations, International Court of Justice) who work according to international treaties, charters, and mandates to negotiate and arbitrate international disputes.

Source: Tanya Fransz,
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Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2020, 4:43 PM