What causes conflict?
Conflict arises out of differences perceived by some people as negative (or harmful).
Where does the conflict occur and with whom?
It doesn't matter whether it is between individuals, teams or organisations, if there is a difference in our looks, our ideas and/or in our actions and some people perceive the difference as harmful, conflict is inevitable. Thus conflict can occur anywhere, with anyone, and at anytime.
Can conflict be avoided?
While it is possible to avoid (or even fight in survival situations) some conflicts, there are other types of conflict that has to be managed without resorting to violence or avoidance behaviours.
How do we manage conflict?
There are three ways of resolving a conflict:
- Avoid it.
- Fight it.
- Learn about it.
The best way of resolving any conflict is to learn. Learning means change. Therefore, to resolve any conflict in a constructive and forward-moving way, there must be change.
It doesn't matter if the change should occur first in the minds of people (which is usually the preferred way), or make positive changes to the environment (the usual L-brain approach to resolving conflicts), so long as there are changes, there is a chance for a resolution in the conflict, just so long as it is done in a positive and constructive manner.
People involved in any conflict must be prepared to make changes in themselves and their ideas/beliefs as well as the environment. If there is no change, there can be no resolution in the conflict.
Who should change?
Conflict resolution is all about change. And when we talk about change, we mean change for everyone, not just the person who may have started the conflict.
Managing conflict affects everyone. And everyone must learn why the conflict has occurred and what everyone should do to resolve it as permanently as possible.
How do we change?
We begin to change by gathering enough information and asking relevant questions. These questions and the information we gather should cover the past, the present, and the future aspects of any conflict. Then we record what we have listened and understood from other people and ourselves as this ensures we are learning something.
To complete the change process, we have to put into action a final solution that everyone can agree on and which will effectively resolve the conflict in the most constructive, permanent and positive way.
What questions should we be asking ourselves and other people?
The most important question you need to ask is, "How do you feel about this situation?" or "How do I feel about this situation?" depending on the person you are asking.
This question of looking at yourself and other people's feelings is a here-and-now moment question that must be asked if you are truly serious about resolving the conflict. If you ignore the feelings part, the conflict will never be resolved.
Next, you must ask relevant and probing questions about the past to know precisely what actions have created the conflict. This means asking things like, "What happened?", "What were you or others doing to create the conflict?", "Why did it happen?", "What was the result of that past action?", "What mistakes were created?"
When you ask these questions relating to the past, make sure you get the facts straight, no matter how ugly or painful it may seem. When doing this, you will quickly learn what the problem is. And listen carefully, as sometimes what one person says may actually be masking something else far more important called needs. So try to understand those fundamental needs people have including yourself.
The next set of questions should be along the lines of, "What can we all do to improve the situation?" This is a question that forces people to look to the future. When asking this question, make it as entertaining, creative and interesting as possible. This is not about being rational. It is about being creative and enjoying it as you do it.
Finally, the last set of questions we should be asking is, "How do we implement the solution?" Again this is a forward-looking type of question, but it also requires a strong "here-and-now" practical or rational mind to ensure the new creative actions and behaviours to be practiced are sensible and effective for everyone concerned.
In essence, the asking of questions should involve stopping in the here-and-now moment and asking the pertinent question of how yourself and others involved in the conflict are feeling, then we look at the past to see what has happened and why, and then we look to the future to determine how to improve on the situation.
And finally, we have to put into practice our solution.
Steps to managing conflict
Stop whatever you are doing in case you are making the conflict worse.
Begin listening and understanding your own and other people's feelings about the conflict.
Ask yourself and others to look at the past and start working out what precise action was provoking an emotional and possibly physical response during the conflict. Once you know what those actions were that created the conflict, you can better control your own and other people's emotions by immediately controlling those action "triggers".
Ask why the actions were created in the first place. What are people trying to achieve? Then ask, "How does this affect other people?" This will help begin to develop the deeper knowledge of how and why so that everyone can question their own fundamental beliefs.
The overriding principle of life and the universe should be not to harm other people. Let everyone experience and learn from their experiences. Let them know the victories and failures as they understand the meaning of why they are here. In religious and psychological terms in the deepest sense, this means we must love one another.
So make sure everyone is fully aware of their own beliefs and their effect on other people. Make sure you or others can see exactly how all our views of the world are, or are not, causing harm to others. If you and/or other people can see certain beliefs as causing harm, then there is a chance to resolve the conflict.
Start having a brainstorming session. This means generating a comprehensive list of potential solutions for resolving the conflict. It does not matter how silly the ideas for a solution might be. Just listen and write it all down. Sometimes what may seem like the silliest idea could turn out to be the best solution to the conflict.
Choose a solution that meets the agreement of everyone affected by the conflict. When choosing a solution, discuss all the pros and cons, together with their consequences. Once you have settled on a solution, stick to it. But make sure the solution is one that will effectively stop the conflict from ever reoccuring in the future.
Devise an action plan and set of objectives for everyone to implement. In that way, old actions and behaviours are modified and new actions and behaviours are positively and regularly reinforced.
Make it a habit to come back to the discussion table on a regular basis to see how everyone has progressed. If necessary, improve the action plan or repeat the above steps to make sure all conflict is effectively ironed out.
Ask questions, listen and record what you understand
At every step of the way, you must constantly listen to people. This means asking the appropriate questions and then really listening to what people have to say.
To make sure you are doing more than just hearing the words, write down the specifics of what people have to say to make sure everyone understands what it is that's creating the conflict, how it is harming people, and what can be done to improve on the situation.
Once you start recording what others are trying to say, your body language will naturally change to reflect a kind of language that says to other people, "I am paying attention".
All this work is called active listening.
What if the conflict cannot be resolved?
If you can't work it out...get help, or ask yourself, "Is it worth pursuing?" If the conflict is important and is worth pursuing until a solution is reached, then the more people you can ask for help and who can get involved in the conflict resolution process, the more chances there are of a quality solution. Just so long as these extra people are concentrating on the solution and not on making the situation worse (e.g. taking sides, not listening, or placing blame on others).
You just have to be patient and make sure that while the solution is being sought, you or others do not rekindle the conflict. If necessary, other people working on the solution should provide whatever is required to meet the needs of the people involved in the conflict so that it will be impossible for any one person to restart the conflict.