What is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict resolution is relatively easy to define. A conflict is a serious disagreement powered by the idea that one has something to lose. The threat of loss is sometimes real. In many cases the threat of loss is a perception of  the parties and is powered by the emotional content of the disagreement, rather than being an actual threat of loss. Resolution describes the actions taken to end said such disagreements.

Conflict and its Resolution

In reality, conflict resolution is difficult. Conflict resolution is the sum of the knowledge and practices that allow a person to assertively and confidently deal with the conflicts they face and to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Some people seem to have these skills innately. Most of us, however, will have to put in some effort to master these skills.

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that there are many possible responses to any given disagreement. Each response will lead to a unique outcome. Some responses will resolve the disagreement. Some responses will spark conflict. Other responses will create no change at all. Any response on the spectrum of good to bad can possibly lead to additional problems. So, how does one decide what to do?

There is some basic knowledge that enables people to make the right choices toward resolving conflict. The most important is self-awareness. Understanding what your interests are and what you are attempting to achieve will make it easier to navigate your disagreements without them spiraling into conflict. Knowledge of your competitor’s values and goals can also make it easier to achieve your aspirations.

Types of Conflict

It is important to understand that there are different types of conflict. Cognitive conflict, sometimes called task or team conflict, is about how something gets done. Primarily, it is conflict around ideas and processes and plans; things that participants might take seriously, but they do not take personally.

Affective conflict is a conflict where a person’s emotions get involved in resolving, or not, the conflict. In affective conflict people are taking the conflict personally and attacking each other rather than the problem. As a result, they often lose sight of how the conflict got started. People definitely lose sight of their own interests when caught up in this type of conflict.

I could list business, social, and personal as types of conflict. In my opinion, these are not types of conflict as much as they are the milieu, or context, of the conflict. These help define the stakes of the conflict. The primary difference between business, social, and personal conflicts are the scope and scale; the number of people affected, how they are affected, and how much it costs to resolve, or not resolve, the problem. The cost of conflict to people and organizations is time and money spent, loss of opportunities, and damage to relationships.

Purposes of Conflict Resolution

There are two main purposes to conflict resolution. The first is to avoid turning disagreement into conflict where and when possible. Second, to attempt to resolve conflicts with a minimum of damage to all parties involved. I use the word attempt because not all conflicts are resolvable. With knowledge of yourself and your goals, along with vigilance against getting emotional about your disagreements, you can learn to assertively, confidently, and effectively navigate your conflicts.

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