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Manual > 1 - CR Theory > Nature of Conflict

Nature of Conflict

Conflict: Varied Perspectives; Belief Systems and Values; Interests 

There is, perhaps, nothing more common than conflict. As a mediator, conflict may constructively be viewed as resulting from:

    • varied perspectives on the situation;
    • differing belief systems and values resulting from participant's accumulated life experience and conditioning; and
    • differing objectives and interests.

Effectively dealing with conflict requires the expression and management of participants' varying perspectives, interests, belief systems and values. It is important to meet the participants exactly where they are. Hear from them fully before tying to lead them anywhere. You can not effectively move toward resolution until each participant experiences themselves to be heard on "their perspective," "what they want," and "why."

Common Ground - Overlapping Interests and Interdependence

Along with their sometimes too well-known differences, people in conflict share much common ground, including:

    • overlapping interests -- participants share in their own relationship, typically have common friends and colleagues, and also have interest in resolving the conflict in an expeditious and economic way;
    • interdependence -- no single participant has the ability to unilaterally impose a resolution on another without paying a very substantial price for doing so; and
    • points of agreement -- even when there are many disputed issues, there may still be a number of points of agreement or possible agreement. The wise mediator assists the parties to identify what they may be easily able to agree on as a foundation for additional discussions. 

The Evolutionary Nature of Conflict

Through the integration of participants' perspectives, interests, belief systems and values, conflict and conflict resolution play important roles in individual and social evolution and development. Conflict arises when one or more participants view the current system as not working. At least one party is sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo that they are willing to own the conflict and speak up with the hope of being able to influence the situation to arrive at an improved condition. Conflict may be viewed as a process we put ourselves through to achieve a new condition and self definition. Through conflict we have opportunities to be creatively self-defining. If nothing else, conflict allows us to do things differently in the future. Through the resolution of conflict, we can, if we choose, evolve and redefine ourselves, our relationships, our community, our society and our world. It is no accident that we most often find ourselves in conflict with those with whom we spend the most time -- family, friends, business associates, and fellow organizational members. There is a great benefit, in terms of the quality of our lives, in being able to constructively resolve conflict with those around us.

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Conflict

Conflict should also be recognized as existing at two levels:

    • the interpersonal level; and
    • the intrapersonal level.

In addition to the typically obvious interpersonal dispute, there almost always exists some measure of intra-personal conflict within each disputing party as that party seeks to assert varied, sometimes contradictory, interests. This inner conflict may be evidenced by confusion, inconsistency or lack of congruity. In this condition, the participant has failed to effectively integrate their various "parts" or "voices" to achieve an effective and comfortable representation of personal interests.

Facilitating a Convergence of Means

Conflict Resolution represents a convergence of means (or arrangements for the future), not necessarily participants' interests or perspectives. Participants will commonly come to support the same arrangement or agreement for very different reasons. Conflict resolution does not necessarily resolve tensions between parties. Conflict resolution may simply sufficiently align matters to allow each participant to make enough progress toward his or her desired ends to prefer declaring there to be a "a state of agreement" rather than the uncertain and stressful "state of disagreement."

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