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The Conflict Paradox – Avoiding It Creates It

Posted on Mar 19 2015 under Blog Posts

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Conflicts play a fundamental role in human interactions whether with your closest friends, at home with your family or even in the work environment. We have all experienced conflict in our lives and yet each of us views conflict very differently. Different perspectives and situations actively shape the way we deal with conflict. There are many unique and personal definitions. In order to understand these varying views and perceptions, I decided to interview a few members of the community. I asked them what they thought conflict was and what it meant to them.

“Conflict is something that causes an unprecedented problem and makes for hard decisions. It means that people aren’t on the same page and have different views, beliefs or cultures.”

“Conflict, for me, is a serious argument that has the potential to escalate into something more violent.”

“To me, conflict is when a disagreement or obstacle gets in the way of something you are trying to achieve.”

“Conflict, to me, is when two or more parties have some type of disagreement that needs to be resolved through a type of negotiation. I think the spectrum level could run from something minor to a full out war.”

“Conflict is part of my daily life at work, as well as in my private life. It’s needed to work out problems, but I personally like to avoid it.”

It is quite easy to see the different ways that the interviewees understand and define conflict in their lives. While one individual sees conflict as an issue of views, beliefs or cultures, another interviewee feels that the conflict is a path towards violence. Similar to the diverse ways to comprehend and define conflict, individuals choose to manage their conflicts in different ways. During my freshman year at Salisbury University, I lived in the on-campus dorms. Over the course of the semester, I started to notice that I got ready at the same time as the student who lived next door to me. We exchanged a few words every morning through some groggy mumbling. After some time though, we talked to each other more frequently and started to have real conversations. However, to my surprise, he decided to ignore me one day. He stopped greeting me in the morning and we did not talk to each other at all. Feeling like I had done something wrong, I decided to stay quiet and let him be. A couple of weeks went by with us silently brushing our teeth next to each other. I started getting frustrated and tried not to care. We barely had any communication until the end of that year when he overheard me talking to his roommate about the situation. Upset by the fact that I was blaming the awkward silence on him, he decided to express how he felt. I learned that he was feeling the same way as me and was confused when I stopped talking to him one day. Both of us spent an entire year not talking to each other because we thought some conflict existed between us. In reality, by us avoiding the situation, we created the conflict.

Our views of conflict impact how we engage in perceived conflict. There are many different ways to manage conflicts. Avoidance is a common method and even one of the interviewees stressed the fact that they would rather avoid conflicts than engage in them. In an online resource titled The Five Conflict Styles, the author, Burrell, discusses how avoidance can be both beneficial and detrimental to a conflict. In some cases, such as when tensions are high in a conflict, avoidance can be beneficial to de-escalate the situation. However, avoidance often means that you hold on to all your discomforts, and since this is counter-productive, it allows for problems to linger unmanaged. Many of us who consistently choose to avoid conflict sometimes fear potential outcomes. Maybe you have had negative encounters in the past when addressing conflicts, and, therefore, you would rather avoid conflict entirely. By staying silent and directly ignoring your needs, as well as the other party’s needs, the conflict does not get managed effectively. That being said, additional conflict styles identified by Ralph Kilmann and Ken Thomas, are Accommodating, Collaborating, Competing, and Compromising. Each style when used appropriately can assist you in engaging in conflict productively.

Check out this previous blog post to learn more about the conflict styles!

Also, if you are not sure entirely sure which conflict style you rely most on, check out the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument to help determine your behavior in conflict.

 

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

 

Reference:

Burrell, Bonnie. “The Five Conflict Styles.” Conflict Management. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web. 12 Mar. 2015.


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