The way in which individuals behave in conflict leads to peaceful resolution of disputes. It is important to distinguish a peaceful resolution and a perfect or complete resolution. The latter represents a situation that all parties in the conflict get what they want without any compromise. Not only that it seldom happens in reality, many of a time the external conflict is a manifestation of a fragile relationship, as explained in the Deutsch Model of conflict (Condliffe, 2008, p. 6). The focus of the resolution may need to shift from the conflict to the relationship, if a long-term resolution is to be sought.
A peaceful resolution may not be the most ideal for each party of the conflict as far as the want is concerned. However, it represents an outcome that puts the needs and interest of both sides before the wants of each individual. It ensures the needs and interest of each party is understood and considered. It emphasizes collaboration, trust and respect, rather than competition. When a conflict occurs, people will react to the conflict in different approaches and behaviour because of various factors, such as personality, social status, educational background, cultural background, gender, health, emotional status, values, mood, etc.
This essay looks into the common approaches to conflict, either productive or unproductive, the major barriers of managing conflict and some suggestions to overcome them. Common Approaches Out of the eleven approaches suggested by Eunson, the common approaches include avoidance or inaction, withdrawal, domination, capitulation and negotiation (Eunson, 2007, pp. 6-7). There are also other common approaches, such as win-win or collaboration, relationship building, shift of focus and reflective dialogue.
Common Unproductive Approaches and their barriers 1. Avoidance or inaction. This approach is to take no action and wait for the conflict to disappear on its own. This can be effective if the conflict is only temporary or circumstantial. The challenge is that the person may need to put up with potential complaints, accusation or even insults. Politicians frequently use this approach and wait until the media lost interest in the story, and people seem to forget and move on with their lives. However, this approach has an accumulative effect on the damages, such as loss of respect and trust. When similar conflicts happen again, people will remember and have all the memories of the unresolved conflicts come back.
This approach is like paying by credit card, the card user is not using cash to pay but his credit, and one day he will pay the full amount plus interest. 2. Withdrawal This approach is to withdraw oneself and avoid confronting in the conflict, resulting in the flight reaction. This approach may be effective as an initial reaction to provide room and time to channel the emotions, to evaluate the situation and to identify the need. However, withdrawal alone will not resolve a conflict. This approach is especially popular in conflicts between parties of opposite values, beliefs or personality.
For example, for dominant and timid personality, the timid personality tends to back off from confrontation and the dominant personality will take advantage of this to satisfy his or her own interest. It is against the timid personality to fight, so withdrawal seems to be the next logical choice. Using Eunson’s example about a spouse walking out of the house in a huff (Eunson, 2007, p. 6), not only the conflict remains unresolved, the act of walking out also reinforces a false impression of strong and weak, superior and inferior, winner and loser.
Many cases of domestic violence are probably the results of long-term withdrawal from conflicts, resulting in a build-up of an infinite superiority. 3. Capitulation This approach is not fight nor flight, but surrender. People adopting this approach do not want to fight, probably due to unequal power, status or resources; nor do they want to flight, either no place to run or surrender appears to be a better choice. This happens more frequently between parties of unequal status or power. For example, a conflict between employer and employee will always have the employee on the disadvantage side.
If the employer refuses to resolve the conflict in a cooperative way, or to try to understand the need of the employee, then giving up seems to be an easy option, unless the employee is prepared to team up with other employees to increase his or her power, or escalate the issues using other approaches, such as “Referral up the chain of command” (Eunson, 2007, p. 7), for example, Trade Union. People adopting this approach effectively surrender their power, and admit that they are weaker, putting themselves into the victim role of the V-P-R triad in the Transactional Analysis model (as cited in Fisher 2004, p. 2). Once they are labelled victim, they can use the blame game to shy away from their responsibility, and hold onto the label to enjoy care from others (Fisher 2004, p. 44). This will become a vicious cycle. 4. Domination This approach is like the opposite of capitulation, instead of giving in, they always want to control and win. This approach together with the capitulation approach may seem to be effective to provide a quick peaceful resolution to a conflict. However, such resolution will not last long, and is like adding fire powder to a timed bomb, which will eventually explode.
Many revolutions in history are results of this suppression from the domination force. If both parties in a conflict take this approach, they are effectively competing each other to come out as a winner. Because of this winning mentality, there will hardly be trust, respect and empathy in the relationship. At best, one side will come out as a winner, but most of the time, if not all, both sides lose. Consider an example of a separated couple fighting for the guardianship of their child. Regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings, they both lost their family that belongs to the child. . Negotiation This approach is like bargaining, trying to get the best deal for oneself in the expense of the other, without considering the need and interest of the other. This approach appears to emphasize fairness, because how much you get from the negotiation depends on how well your negotiation skill is. It is a fair game and the final deal agreed by both sides. However, this approach sees the other side as an opponent and assumes that there is not enough for both to win. Manipulation rather than influence is usually found in this approach.
There is no better example than the one given by Cornelius in which two persons want the one and only orange but for different needs (Cornelius, 2006, p. 27). If they negotiated without taking the need and interest into consideration, they might end up cutting it into halves, or one getting the orange but with some kind of compensation. These outcomes may be an agreed resolution but the approach is not a productive approach. The above approaches are all unproductive in the sense that the conflict is not effectively resolved. It is either ignored, suppressed, avoided or being turned into a battle that brings damages and destructions.
With these approaches, it is quite impossible to cultivate values like empathy, trust, respect and love. If a resolution for a conflict is reached in the expense of these values, it is not productive. Common Productive Approaches and their barriers 1. Collaboration According to Cornelius, in a collaborative approach, the two sides of a conflict become partners, not opponents (Cornelius, 2006, p. 24). They are on the same boat rowing towards an agreed destination, rather than rowing against each other towards their own destination.
The aim of this approach is to take the need and viewpoint of each side into consideration, so as to produce a win-win outcome, in which not only each side is satisfied with the outcome of the collaborative effort, but also result in better understanding, trust and respect. The focus, as stated in the Discover Model of Crum, is in understanding the need, feeling and being creative, resulting in learning and fascination; rather than focusing in right or wrong, resulting in frustration and disappointment (Crum, 1987, p. 129).
The challenge to this approach is to be honest and open with one’s own need, and the willingness to put in time and effort to understand and consider the need of the other. Other barriers include the ability to persevere when under pressure, attack, abuse, or dealing with uncooperative people; lack of skill; reluctance to take up responsibility; falling back to old habit, etc. 2. Building Relationship A strong relationship can increase the capacity to accommodate conflicts, because it eases tension and enables people to take others’ need into consideration.
Some conflicts are merely manifestations of a failed relationship. For example, a frustrated wife when not feeling love from the husband, may pick on everything he does to release her anger. Once the relationship is restored, these false conflicts will disappear. To resolve these conflicts, the best way is to strengthen the relationship since it is the root cause of the conflicts. However, it does not mean that a healthy relationship will be immune from conflicts. Like a healthy body, it will still get sick but not as easily and it will recover much quicker.
One of the challenges of this approach is the willingness and ability to build relationship. Another challenge is when trying to restore a damaged relationship with a long history of neglected feelings and emotions. Old wounds will take longer time to heal, and they need courageous actions, like apology, forgiveness, praise and sacrifice (Eunson, 2007, pp23-24). 3. Shift of Focus Eunson suggests the use of superordinate goals to pull the two sides together (Eunson, 2007, p. 26). With a common goal, the two sides will have to put down their opposing views, at least temporarily, to work together to achieve the common goal.
If understanding, trust and respect can be built when cooperating to achieve the common goal, then the original conflicts may no longer exist, or at least be easier to resolve. This approach is basically to shift the focus from the mentality of you-or-me to the mentality of you-and-me (Cornelius, 2006, p. 27). This shift of focus to a common goal may not necessarily come from a threat, it can also come from a significant reward or promise which is more attractive than holding onto their positions in the conflict, although Eunson points out that threats are more powerful than promises (Eunson, 2006, p. 5) As Eunson points out, the challenges include the situations “when one party thinks that it can still achieve a win-lose outcome, … when the other side does not see the rationality of shared survival. ” (Eunson, 2007, p. 26)
These challenges boil down to one thing: willingness. 4. Reflective Dialogue The above three productive approaches can only be effective when both sides cooperate. Although you cannot fully control how a person behaves, you can control your own behaviour. As suggested by Scharmer, reflective dialogue is “when we listen to ourselves reflectively and when we listen to others empathetically” (as cited in Kahane, 2007, p. 2). This can be a productive approach even without the cooperation of the others, because when they realise that they are heard and understood, they are more ready to respond in a collaborative manner. The challenge of this approach is the ability to persist when you receive abuse, aggressive manner, threats or unreasonable demands as return. The encouraging fact is that empathy is an inborn capability, using the words of Goleman: “empathy is a given of biology” (Goleman, 1995, p. 103). It is just a matter of finding ways to activate and strengthen this inborn capability. Ways to overcome barriers to managing conflict
There are various ways to overcome the challenges or barriers discussed in the unproductive approaches to manage conflict: 1. Willingness Based on the above discussion, it is fair to conclude that one of the major barriers to manage conflict is willingness. Willingness can be hindered by many factors, such as need for apology, desire for revenge, lack of responsibility, discomfort, unresolved emotions (guilt, pride, resentment, anger, fear), enjoying benefit from the conflict, saving face, etc. Cornelius suggests starting with heart, to see the other person as your partner, to want both parties to win, and commit to it (Cornelius, 2006, p. 9). There are skills to encourage willingness, such as discussing the benefits of a peaceful resolution, identifying the cost of unresolved conflicts, breaking into small and manageable steps to resolve conflict, etc. 2. Relationship Building Skills Eunson points out a list of interpersonal skills to help building relationship, such as assertiveness, listening, questioning, framing or problem defining, and influencing skills (Eunson, 2006, p. 24-25). The skills should also cover the subtle variations created in the differences of gender, culture, social status, education, etc.
These skills can all be trained and improved with practices and over time. 3. Formation of new habit People react to a conflict out of a habitual behaviour. Therefore, in order to adopt a new approach to conflict, one needs to learn all the skills of the new approach, unlearn the old habit of reacting, and relearn the new skills into a new habit. This can be a bumpy ride, as Cornelius points out, your view may be attacked, your rights may be abused, and you are forced back to the adversarial approach, the old habit of reacting (Cornelius, 2006, p. 26).
Using the previous example of boat rowing, when the rowers have to change their positions to row from against each other, to towards the same destination, it requires some changes of position and the boat will rock during this movement; however, when the positions are set, the boat is ready to go. It is important to persevere the turbulence until the new habit is formed. 4. Reconciliation For the conflicts that are resulted from a failed relationship, especially those with a long history of unresolved emotions, reconciliation is required to heal the old wounds first.
There are skills to reconcile a stressed relationship, such as apology, forgiveness, praise, sacrifice, empathy, etc (Eunson, 2006, p. 29-30). If the damage is beyond repair without external help, mediation, such as professional counselling should be sought. Sometimes self-reconciliation is also required when there is guilt and hatred developed towards oneself. Self-blaming and hating prevents having a healthy relationship with others. As Rosenberg suggests, we can use the mourning technique of Non-violent Communication to recognize judgmental self-talk, and change the focus from self-blaming to self-forgiveness (Rosenberg, 2005, p. 32-133). 5. Communication Lack of communication is the first killer of any joint efforts. Most of the conflicts are either directly or indirectly caused by miscommunication, or simply lack of communication. Therefore, improving and maintaining a healthy communication is of paramount importance to overcome the barriers of managing conflicts. In addition to the communication of information, the needs, concerns, feelings and emotions should also be communicated. Communication skills include active listening, paraphrasing, use of empathetic language, body language, perceptiveness, assertiveness, etc.
Conclusion. With unproductive approaches, people basically reacting to a conflict based on a habitual behaviour, without much thought whether the approach is productive or not. The outcome is usually win-lose or lose-lose. It is seldom win-win. With a collaborative approach, it may not always result in a complete resolution, but working as partners to reach a common goal will more likely reach a better solution, enhance relationship and mutual understanding and respect. All the above productive approaches, when applied effectively and persistently, can result in better solution, understanding, trust and respect.
Although they require hard work and have various challenges or barriers as mentioned above, the outcome justifies the effort. With proper training on the skills, readjusting the mindset, it is possible to change the behaviour when one learns to feel and think differently about what is happening. When the productive approaches are incorporated into the behaviour pattern and become a habit when responding to a conflict, a peaceful resolution will be a likely outcome of disputes.