“If we manage conflict constructively, we harness its energy for creativity and development.”Kenneth Kaye
Just because people share the same goal around creating change, does not mean that they will agree on everything. Effective social change leaders recognize the importance of addressing internal conflicts early, and in a way that improves relationships among allies. Even if a dispute seems like a small thing it needs to be addressed. What seems like a small thing to one person might be the key to trust or commitment to another.
Sometimes conflict appears to be about one thing, but it is, in fact, related to a variety of things. This reality is commonly illustrated by an iceberg metaphor. Factors such as culture, values, and assumptions are always present beneath the conflict in question.
Not every conflict involving people who are different is caused by cultural differences, but recognizing cultural differences is particularly important. Cultural differences can include things such as:
- communication styles
- attitudes towards conflict
- approaches to completing tasks
- decision-making styles
- ways people come to know things
We cannot know all things about all cultures, and there are no universal intercultural problem-solving methods. These two things, however, are true: 1) in every culture people communicate because they want to be listened to and they want to be understood; and 2) in every culture people respond to respect and disrespect.
Individual Conflict Styles: a Starting Point
Many people find it useful to try to determine where individuals fit on an inventory of conflict styles. The most popular description of individual styles is probably the Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, developed in the early 1970s by Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann. The assessment instrument itself is under copyright, and can be purchased, but the categories as they are mapped in terms of their relationship to assertiveness, and cooperativeness, are widely known (see image below).
Effective Strategies for Managing Conflict
- Respectful, Active Listening
- Apologizing when appropriate
- Don’t lose your sense of humor
- Accepting a goal of negotiating and compromising
- Temporarily postponing decisions
- Sharing all of the reasons for your opinions
- Soliciting intervention by a trusted third party
- Taking turns speaking