Conflict is a relationship among two or more opposing parties, based on actual or perceived differences in needs, interests, and goals. Conflict is a part of our professional, personal and social life, and is often required for the dynamics of change.
Conflict management is challenging because of the following reasons −
The origins of a conflict are often complex and diverse. Multiple conflicts may go on at the same time.
Conflicts are dynamic (ever-changing) and interactive social processes that are difficult to handle.
There are five major sources of conflict regardless of whether the conflict is seen as interpersonal, intrapersonal, inter-organizational, communal, or social −
Relationship conflicts occur due to the presence of strong negative emotions, misperceptions, poor communication, misunderstandings, or repetition of negative behavior.
Data conflicts occur when people lack the information necessary to make wise and correct decisions as demanded by time, interpret information differently, are misinformed, or disagree over what data are relevant.
Interest conflicts are caused by competition over perceived or actual incompatible requirements.
Structural conflicts are caused due to oppressive patterns of human relationships like limited resources or authority, geographic constraints like distance or proximity, too little time, or too much time
Value conflicts are caused because of perceived or actual incompatible belief systems. Differences in values cause serious disputes and cannot be solved through negotiations alone.
Determining an appropriate response is a very essential outcome of conflict analysis. Some key attributes for managing conflicts are discussed below −
Negotiation − A group discussion and decision-making process among opposing parties. Its objective is to settle an agreement that ends the dispute.
Mediation − the process where an acceptable third party known as the mediator with limited or no authoritative decision-making power assists the main parties in a conflict to resolve their dispute.
Arbitration − an informal process whereby the parties submit the issues at stake to a mutually agreeable third party, who makes the decision and both the parties cooperate for them.
Adjudication − a process whereby an authority, a judge, or other official makes a decision based on the norms, policies, rules, regulations, and values of the society, and in conformity with legal statutes.
In collaborative conflict management, there is no single best way that is applicable in all situations. Deciding the most appropriate and legitimate means of addressing a dispute depends on the situation. Multiple ways of resolving conflicts should be used in combination.
The process map of collaborative conflict management includes three stages −
Step 1 − Analyze the conflict
A formal analysis starts by collecting detailed information about the conflict. Information about an issue is gathered through three sources − direct observation, secondary sources, and personal interviews.
The analysis should be updated throughout the process as new information is introduced and as people and their relationships change.
Step 2 − Develop a conflict management strategy
Determine who should participate − categories of participants, and the individuals who can represent interests in the best way.
Define the roles that each individual associated with the negotiation is expected to play − Including participants, the initiator, convener, technical resource expert, observers, and the logistics support person.
Step 3 − Inform stakeholders about the strategy
Educate the parties − Parties must understand the context and root cause of the problem, issues, their own and other parties’ interests.
Define meeting ground rules − Ground rules are the rules of conduct that all parties need to abide during negotiations or other conflict management activities.
Step 4 − Establish ground rules for the negotiation
The parties should adopt the ground rules and protocols drafted during the planning phase.
Rules can be added or modified as per the requirement, but the entire group must approve any change before it is adopted.
Step 5 − Explore the issues and interests
Parties educate each other − They describe their perceptions on the issue, identify and discuss the problems, explain their concerns, and list their assumptions.
Identify and share interests − the reasons, requirements, concerns, and motivations underlying participants' positions rather than assert positions.
Step 6 − Specify the information needs
Briefing more information about issues and interests.
Identifying information that is available, and additional necessary information that is missing.
Mutually agreeing on methods for generating answers to technical questions, or an activity or process to execute when there is no consensus over technical issues.
Step 7 − Prioritize the issues
Put the issues into a sequence − such as labeling it as high-priority, medium-priority, low-priority, and undecided.
Beginning with a procedural or psychological agreement is a good strategy.
Step 8 − Generate options
Negotiators are supported to create multiple options for each issue, because the search for a good solution needs a broad discussion and thinking outside the box.
Multiple options are also advisable because it is quite common for party A to suggest an option that party B rejects.
The goal at this stage is to produce the broadest possible selection of alternatives possible.
Step 9 − Develop criteria for evaluating options
In this step, the parties need to assess how well their interests will be satisfied by each of the alternatives that have been generated collaboratively.
Using objective criteria facilitates the process of deciding which alternatives will be most satisfactory to all groups.
It also ensures that there are fair and independent standards for decision-making.
Step 10 − Evaluate the options
Encourage the parties to look closely at their BATNAs (i.e. Best Alternatives To a Negotiated Agreement).
Each party is required to determine whether it is better off with or without the proposed agreement.
Step 11 − Reach an agreement
There are several ways of coming up with an agreement −
Agreements in principle − Start with general principles and rules that all the parties can agree to. Then work on clarifying how these principles can be put in place to lead to an agreement peacefully.
First agreement in principle − The companies and the communities agree in principle that the companies should employ more local people.
Second agreement in principle − The companies and the communities agree in principle that those hired should have certain qualifications or skills demanded.
Third agreement in principle − The companies and the community agree in principle to develop a list of specific qualifications and skills that those employed must have.
Step 12 − Develop a written agreement
Present the draft to constituent − The parties to the dispute need time to confirm the options they agree to and obtain support from their constituents.
One of the greatest pitfalls in negotiations occurs when the negotiator for party exceeds his/her authority in reaching an agreement.
Step 13 − Approve the agreement
Confirm the agreement with a larger constituency − Once an agreement has been posted, the negotiating parties may wish to confirm its acceptability to their broader constituencies.
Make the agreement public − A final point of mutual discussion is the extent to which stakeholders wish to make their agreement public.
Step 14 − Implement the agreement
Monitor results − A monitoring system facilitates a central point to which all parties can direct their concerns and suggestions.
Decide which actions constitute violations of the agreement and how to handle them − The monitoring committee must take responsibility and account for naming violations and exploring the reasons for any infraction with the offending party.
Collaborative conflict management is a learning process for all participants. It provides new insights on how to influence decisions, manage differences, and develop a better understanding and greater respect for each others’ interests in the future. For this reason, collaborative conflict management processes are likely to result in increased competencies for handling conflict situations and a strengthened sense of responsibility in conflict-charged situations.