Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is an important skill to acquire.

It’s easy to communicate in a relaxed comfortable environment.

But, when people become upset because of unresolved conflicts (communication barriers), communication falls off rapidly.

As conflicts intensify they lead to barriers of isolation as well as communication lines that are damaged or broken.

Learning how to navigate in these uncertain waters is important since conflicts are a part of our daily lives.

Now, let’s explore conflict theory, conflict resolution tips and more.


Are conflicts contests?

The primary reason that conflicts originate is because each of us view the world differently. These differences create conflicts. This is a logical conflict theory.

Conflicts can be viewed as negative or positive; it all depends upon our perception of what conflicts represent. Some of the common sources of conflict are: expectations, perceptions, priorities, morals, values, beliefs and ethics.

Conflicts produce negative emotions when they are seen as contests. For people who view conflicts as contests, force tends to follow force blindly.

This one-upmanship mindset frequently escalates into a no-win situation. When this happens both parties can experience significant stress and spend excessive time trying to “win the argument.”

A better way of handling conflicts is to make a conscious shift to view the situation or circumstance from multiple view points.

Understanding different view points leads to awareness. Greater awareness leads to resolution alternatives. This shift in thinking opens up some exciting opportunities.

First, with the willingness to understand other view points, we grow personally. With an open mind we can see conflicts as stimulus to strengthen our thought processes and create better solutions to the conflict.

Another way of looking at this is that the power of learning comes not so much from agreement with colleagues, friends and family, but from the exploration of diverse ideas with these individuals.

Second, since having a conflict in the workplace is common in corporate life, mangers are constantly in search of those individuals who are flexible enough to view situations from multiple angles and are able to manage them effectively. They have a good handle on conflict management strategies.

Many people are unable, or unwilling to see beyond their own view point. Learning conflict theory and how to manage conflicts in college will serve you well when you venture into the working world.

Finally, when people feel validated and understood, their trust and respect increases. Then, open discussions of individual perceptions and misperceptions can be clarified. When this happens, hybrid solutions to conflicts become viable options. Everyone wins.


Viewing Conflicts from Different View Points

Viewing conflicts from different view points isn’t an easy task. It is far easier to view conflicts from our own perspective than to see them from someone else’s. The is a positive aspect of conflict theory.

The world might be easier if everyone could view things from the same aspect, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or educational. There is much truth to the statement: “When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much.”

Sometimes a conflict arises with someone who you don’t know. In this case, using experience and intuition spiced with a nonjudgmental attitude is the key for seeing from the others person’s point of view.

For conflicts with people who you know it is helpful to utilize what you have learned about them over time. As discussed previously, learning is accomplished by asking questions about a person’s upbringing, family, friends, culture, beliefs and experiences.

This will help you to understand why he or she acts, reacts and views the world in a particular way. Also, observing while minimizing (or eliminating) judgment, rejection and criticizing helps provide clues to what motivates this individual.

With this knowledge you are better equipped to manage conflicts between yourself and him or her when they occur.

The Black and White Mentality

Many people view conflicts in black and white. They see one right answer (theirs) and all others are wrong. This thinking is ineffective since the world operates in shades of gray. This is a common conflict theory.

There is rarely one right answer with all other answers wrong. Black and white thinking makes it easier for a person to define a course of action, but leaves little room for compromise. With an uncompromising view of the world, conflicts are much more difficult to resolve.

Television and movie media reinforces this black and white mentality again and again. For example, one of the most common themes in the media is the good guy, bad guy and a conflict.

Usually the vantage point is from one person’s (or group’s) perspective. Often you won’t see (or only vaguely see) the other party’s vantage point. Even when you do, it is usually overly simplified.

There are exceptions to the way conflicts are portrayed in the media, but they are rare. One exception is in a movie called “A Few Good Men.” The movie is about a military tribunal.

At different phases of the movie the audience is able to clearly view the perspective of different characters in the conflict. At one point we are guided to understand the positive intentions and motivations of the prosecuting attorney. At another phase we are encouraged to empathize with the defendants. Other characters are fully developed as well.

Empathizing on very different sides is difficult to portray effectively, but this movie did an excellent job. The ending guided the audience to feel good and bad for several of the opposing characters simultaneously.

This well written piece of work is much closer to reality than most movies where good and evil characters and motivations are only one, or two-dimensional at best.

The more a perspective is different than our own, the greater the difficulty it is to view it objectively. Although objective thinking is tough when personal beliefs, expectations, perceptions, priorities, or values are challenged, they are tremendous growth opportunities in understanding conflict theory.


Focus on the Issues not the Personalities

A common pitfall of conflict resolution (part of conflict theory) is to focus on personalities instead of issues. When people discuss a topic that they are passionate about it’s common to associate a position with a person.

The greater the heat of debate, the easier it is to blur the division between personalities and issues. This simple mistake can easily lead to finger pointing and escalation of tempers.

Instead, striving to separate the emotion of the moment from the conflict helps make the issue easier to address. Seeing the opportunity to solve a conflict equitably can lead to a positive outcome.

Respect and validation of the feelings and attitudes of others helps lead to understanding of different perspectives. By focusing on the issues and not the personalities, resolution to problems becomes more achievable.

Focusing on the issue instead of getting personal promotes an environment where others are cooperative. Creative solutions are explored and implemented. This helps build good interpersonal and work relationships along the way.


In Summary

Conflicts are common. Our attitude governs not only how we approach them, but it influences how effectively we work with others. If we understand conflict theory and manage them as a positive growing experience, our attitude and solutions are better than if we view them as an evil in our lives.

Thinking in terms of meeting each party’s needs instead of what is wrong with the other person opens up a world of stimulating opportunities for powerful and creative solutions to problems. Criticisms, judgments and insults are minimized and we create a comfortable environment to solve problems—big and small.

The barriers of isolation crumble and communication improves dramatically. People who do this master conflict theory.

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