Topic 1

The Nature of Conflict

According to the Oxford Dictionary, conflict is defined as “a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles or interests”.

Understanding the nature of conflict is paramount in effective conflict management.

Conflict, whether in interpersonal relationships, workplaces, or broader societal contexts, arises from the clash of differing opinions, interests, or goals. It is an inherent part of human interaction and can stem from various sources, such as misunderstandings, competition for resources, or contrasting values.

Recognizing that conflict is a natural and inevitable occurrence allows individuals and groups to approach it with greater empathy and open-mindedness. By comprehending its underlying causes and dynamics, conflict resolution strategies can be tailored appropriately, fostering constructive communication, compromise, and mutual understanding.

Emphasizing the significance of comprehending conflict’s intricacies enables us to transform tense situations into opportunities for growth, collaboration, and positive change.

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Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

Some resources (meeting room, office supplies, boss’ time) are scarce and when more than one person or group requires access to a particular resource, conflict might occur. Imagine yourself to be unable to gain access to something you needed to work; any ‘symptoms’ of conflict starting to emerge yet?

Differences in work styles: Each individual has their own unique way of working based on their needs and personality, which can lead to conflicts when working together.

Just as two workers can differ in their style of work, similarly they can also have conflicting perceptions about things. For example, when a colleague offers you help one person might appreciate the gesture and perceive this as kindness, whereas another person might see this as an insult, a gesture that indicate that he/she is not able to do his/her job properly.

People differ on their personal values, especially if we take into consideration the cultural diversity in today’s workplace. Hart (2009) suggest that such differences might cause segregation in the workplace, and ultimately conflict.

Policies and rules are important, in order to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. The absence of clear policies and guidelines can create an environment of uncertainty and conflict (Hart, 2009).

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Real-life Scenario: Conflict Case Study

Let us examine conflict through the following example:

Max and Simon were working in the same team. One day, they were asked to collaborate on a project assigned to them from their superior. Max likes structure in his work and he sets strict deadlines to himself to be able to perform effectively. On the other hand, Simon works in a more flexible way. When Max tried to set deadlines to Simon and execute the project in a particular way, a conflict between the two occurred. It is clear that the dissimilarity in the thought process, nature and attitude between Max and Simon gave rise to the conflict between the two. If left underdressed, conflicts can affect employee’s morale and also hinder their performance (Ayoko, Callan and Hartel, 2003; Kisamore 2010). Hence, such incidents require immediate action. In order, to start thinking how to resolve a conflict, the first logical step is to identify the causes of the conflict.

Understanding the nature of conflict

1. Understanding the root causes and emotions behind a conflict is crucial for fostering greater sensitivity and patience in its resolution. By gaining insight into the underlying issues, individuals can approach the conflict with empathy and a deeper understanding of each party’s perspective.

2. Constructive conflict can lead to innovative ideas, enhanced problem-solving, and improved relationships. It encourages individuals to acknowledge that conflicts may emerge due to diverse perspectives and experiences, fostering a more inclusive approach to conflict resolution.

3. Understanding the nature of conflict helps to dispel misconceptions and negative connotations often associated with it. Rather than viewing conflict as something to be avoided at all costs, individuals and organizations can recognize its potential benefits.

4. Embracing conflict with an open mind and a willingness to comprehend different viewpoints is key to finding common ground and reaching amicable solutions. It involves empathetic listening and open communication, which are essential tools for resolving conflicts effectively.