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Insights from Obama and Clinton Camps: How to handle conflict

Posted by Herman Najoli on July 27, 2007

Over the past couple of days, we have all been held spell-bound by the friction taking place between the Obama camp and the Clinton camp in the race for President of the United States. The truth is that friction takes place everwhere – it occurs inside our organizations, it occurs between different organizations, it occurs on sports teams, it occurs in the family, it occurs in Churches, it occurs between countries and many other areas of life. At one point or another, we will all encounter friction in life. Friction between human systems is defined as conflict. Understanding how to manage conflict is therefore essential.

There are two kinds of conflict: functional conflict and dysfunctional conflict.

Functional conflict is a confrontation between groups that benefits all groups that are involved equally. Functional conflict brings about greater awareness and solutions which allow for change. Functional conflict actually leads to a mutual understanding between groups. For example, the research team at Better Life Company that it’s time to release a new product onto the market. The marketing team on the other hand feels like the company has too many products that are yet to be well-positioned in the market. This conflict brings in the strategy team and after lengthy discussions, they reach a consensus. That is functional conflict. 

Dysfunctional conflict is any conflict between groups that creates an environment that is not conducive to progress. This kind of conlict leads to stress and results in terrible losses for any groups that are involved in it. Those of you who are avid football fans may remember the surprise firing of Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was fired because of dysfunctional conflict between him and the team manager, AJ Smith. For almost 3 years, the two of them had been at logger-heads over personnel decisions.  The conflict between the two of them led to the chargers losing many good coordinators.

Now, there are five approaches that can be utilized in the management of conflict:

1. Accomodating – This is where one group places emphasis on the needs of the other group while minimizing it’s own concerns. In essence, one group allows the other to win – a win-lose situation. While it may seem as if the group is giving in, it might be a beneficial approach when the other group has a huge stake in the matter at hand.

2. Dominating – This is when one group focuses completely on it’s own cares and concerns and closes the door to the other group. The dominating group “forces” it’s power and resolutions on the other group. This again is a win-lose situation.The group with the higher balance of power wins over the other group.

3. Avoiding – It’s unfortunate that this happens but there are times when one group may avoid another. This may not be the best strategy but it sometimes helps to cool the situation so that the time may be used to gather additional information.

4. Compromising – When two groups compromise, none of them emerges as a winner. There must be some giving up of value in order for compromising to be effective. Compromise can lead to more conflict later because teh groups might still harbour a feeling that their needs were never met.

5. Collaboration – When groups collaborate, both of them come out of the conflict situation as winners. Collaboration is solution-centered thinking. By working together to solve the conflict the two groups demonstrate immense respect for each other.

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