Friday, November 23, 2007


Conflict exists whenever incompatible activities occur (Deutsch, 1973). An activity that is incompatible with another is one that prevents, blocks, or interferes with the occurrence or effectiveness of the second activity. A conflict can be as small as a disagreement or as large as a war. It can originate in one person, between two or more people, or between two or more groups (Johnson & Johnson, 1995a). However, an individual can learn to deal with conflict through communication and negotiation so that it does not create further problems or issues.

Part of dealing with conflict is about understanding what people are thinking and feeling. You may not agree with them, but the first step is to try and understand. It is also important to clearly explain your views and feelings so they can understand you.

Ways people deal with conflict:

The turtle represents people who withdraw from conflict – they think it is easier to avoid the people and the situations that have caused the conflict. They usually do not address the problem and hope that it goes away.

The shark represents people who try to use their force to get what they want in conflict. All they care about is winning. They are very focused on their own needs and do not think about the other person.

The teddy bear represents people who will give in to others in order to save their relationship with them. They want people to like them and fear that conflict may end their relationship with that person.

The fox represents people who may give up some of their goal (compromise) in order to resolve the conflict. They are happy to meet half way and are focused on resolving the conflict quickly.

Owls are people to try to make sure that both people can meet their goals without compromise. They look for different options and are focused on a win-win outcome. They care about the other person's goals as much as their own.

You will find that you can relate to these different strategies for dealing with conflict in different situations. If you were involved in conflict with an aggressive person, it may be best to be the turtle and walk away – avoid the conflict. However, in most situations, it is important to aim for a win-win outcome – the owl. Both your goals and the other person's goals are important and through good communication you may reach an outcome that meets both your needs.

Conflicts have considerable value when they are managed constructively. The issue is not whether conflicts occur, but rather how they are managed. Desirable outcomes of constructively managed conflict include (Deutsch, 1973; Johnson, 1970; Johnson & F. Johnson, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1995a): Greater quantity and quality of achievement, complex reasoning, and creative problem solving; higher quality decision making; healthier cognitive, social, and psychological development by being better able to deal with stress and cope with unforeseen adversities; increased motivation and energy to take action; higher quality relationships with friends, co-workers, and family members; a greater sense of caring, commitment, joint identity, and cohesiveness with an emphasis on increased liking, respect, and trust; heightened awareness that a problem exists that needs to be solved; and an increased incentive to change.

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