By Samantha Armstrong/ AS Graduate Advisor
This story is about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody should have been blamed by Anybody.
What exactly is conflict? For many, conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from differing attitudes, beliefs, values or needs. Conflict can also grow out of past rivalries and personality differences. Additionally, conflict may rise out of trying to negotiate before the timing is right or before needed information is available. But, what is conflict really made up of? What ingredients are needed to “stir the pot” and create conflict in groups or between individuals? Below is a list of conflict “ingredients” taken from George Mason University’s Center for Service and Leadership, which can be found at http://www.gmu.edu/student/csl/, and my tips on how to address them.
Needs: Needs are things that are essential to our well-being. Conflicts arise when we ignore others’ needs, our own needs or the group’s needs. Be careful not to confuse needs with desires (things we would like, but are not essential). I recommend staying in tune to everyone’s needs, and you can do this by simple checking in and asking yourself or others if their needs are being met.
Perceptions: People interpret reality differently. They perceive differences in the severity, causes and consequences of problems. Misperceptions or differing perceptions may come from: self-perceptions, others’ perceptions, differing perceptions of situations and perceptions of threat. Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and thinking outside the box in order to prevent or resolve conflict!
Power: How people define and use power is an important influence on the number and types of conflicts that occur. This also influences how conflict is managed. Conflicts can arise when people try to make others change their actions or to gain an unfair advantage. Be aware of a power balance and your own power in a group.
Values: Values are beliefs or principles we consider to be very important. Serious conflicts arise when people hold incompatible values or when values are not clear. Conflicts also arise when one party refuses to accept the fact that the other party holds something as a value rather than a preference. Keep communication lines open and really think about how you present your values. Really try to listen to where others are coming from.
Feelings and emotions: Many people let their feelings and emotions become a major influence over how they deal with conflict. Conflicts can also occur because people ignore their own or others’ feelings and emotions. Other conflicts occur when feelings and emotions differ over a particular issue. Breathe. Sometimes you may need to remove yourself from a current situation in order to gather your thoughts and rein your emotions in. I am not advocating ignoring your emotions when conflict arises, however, I am advocating making sure that they do not blind you to a possible solution.
Remember, conflict is not always negative; it can be healthy when effectively managed. Healthy conflict can help groups grow, broaden their horizons and become stronger in the end. If conflict is recognized and what is causing it is brought to light for all to see, it can be effectively managed by reaching a consensus or agreement that meets the needs of all. Many times, this results in individuals feeling like they gained something and, as previously stated, it can help groups become stronger in the end.
It is important to recognize that conflict is normal and in many ways positive for groups to engage in. Conflict can mean that the group is challenging itself to grow and test communication lines. I leave you with this final recommendation: if you are faced with conflict, gather all the information you can and keep communication lines open; be an active participant in helping your group move through the conflict.