Dealing with Conflict Situations
If two drivers meet in a narrow lane and neither will back up, the knowledge and skill required in such situation will be how to modify one or both of the drivers’ behaviour to resolve this conflict. Knowledge of the respective cubic capacities of engines and the political affiliations of the drivers will either be useless or of only marginal help. What is required is an effective intervention now by someone.
The intervention could be made by either driver or by the farmer who is leaning on the gate, in the role of a third party whose world may be de-stabilised by irrational disputants. The skills present in this trio will determine the ratio of twisted metal, high blood pressure and wasted energy to effective resolution. Either adversaries or third parties behave skilfully or they fail to resolve the situation. They need the critical skill of coping with conflict.
When Someone needs to Change Someone's Opinion
If parties to a conflict at work see their needs as opposing goals, then in a manner of speaking they will not back up either. Someone needs to change someone’s behaviour to make progress, or to restructure the basic circumstances. If the lane can be widened, then both may pass. Or, more elegantly, if perceptions of the width and the value of joint action are seen, then perhaps both may pass – with due care and attention. At work, if options for mutual gain are identified, then people can see their mutual world in terms of overlapping circles, not opposite corners of an industrial boxing ring.
But, again, someone needs to deliberately and skilfully intervene. The farmer leaning on the gate in the industrial setting can be any intelligent and skilled participant or third party. It would be a manager, a representative, a worker, a personnel specialist, a trainer – we all can act. We are all part of the drama. Again, our skill must be pointed and intervention now (bearing in mind that skilled intervention includes knowing when not to intervene) and on an ongoing basis. Short and long term goals require choosing, ideas require developing and actions require execution.
Practical Help in Coping with Conflict
The knowledge and experience that is of practical help in coping with conflict can be found in very different theatres of experience; international diplomacy, industrial relations, moulding public opinion and handling terrorism are four crucial ones. The point of reviewing successful practice in theatres of action such as these is to help us categorise strategies and tactics – to produce checklists of useful measures that can be taken right away.
Life is full of situations where adversaries, colleagues, friends and relations will not back up or back down. The situations differ, of course, in important ways: the substance is different. International conflict may have proliferations of nuclear missiles on the agenda; arguments within the family may only have the choice of the summer holiday as the substantive issue. Intensity is another important dimension; the background climate can be one of détente or cold war. The holiday discussed within the family can be matter of fact or an intense emotional battle due to peripheral or surrounding circumstances, like shortage of money or your spouse’s desire to bring mother-in-law along.
Both these and countless other situations are sharp moments in the process of living – moments of conflict, change and consequences – where events can escalate or be resolved. Whether the missile is fired or it is not. The holiday turns out well or it does not. See also What not to say when resolving conflict . Any situation that leads to conflict can be destructive or constructive. It can drain energy or raise it. Conflict can be uncontrolled or can be controlled. There can be too much conflict; there also can be too little of it. But the world around it shows there is little need to justify coping with conflict as a basic survival skill.
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