I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
||William Blake, `The Poison Tree'
Conflict and dispute are part of life. There is no society,
community, organisation or interpersonal relationship which
does not experience conflict at some time or another as part
of daily interaction. Conflict arises when people or groups
are engaged in competition to meet goals which are perceived
to be, or are in fact, incompatible. Conflict can become physically
and emotionally damaging or it can lead to growth and productivity
for all parties. It all depends on how conflict is managed
Individual study time: 3 hours
After working through this unit, you should be able to:
understand the nature of conflict
recognise stages of conflict
apply techniques of conflict resolution
establish measures to avoid conflict.
The nature of conflict
This programme does not attempt to give participants final
solutions on conflict resolution, but rather it deals with
what school heads might say and do with colleagues, parents
and pupils when they cannot agree on certain matters.
How can one describe conflict? Conflict has been defined
'Conflict is an open disagreement between two people or groups
of people who have different goals and values. Conflict involves
people's feelings as well as their objectives, and both feelings
as well as outcome of the conflict must be resolved, agreement
must be found or a compromise worked out.'
Although this definition is rather negative, a number of
comments have been made by writers on the nature of conflict,
which recognise the definite advantages that can be gained
from conflict, including:
confronting the individual with him/herself
forcing reassessment of the position of the other party
redefining of roles and relationships
creating an awareness of alternatives and options.
Conflict as a process
The particular nature of conflict situations is not unknown
to school heads. At the outset a conflict situation is often
perceived as a single event; but this is seldom the case.
Conflicts do not simply erupt; rather they develop through
various stages, and in each of these stages certain factors
contribute to the possibility of conflict.
(1) Identify a particular conflict situation you are
(2) List the possible stages in the development of this conflict
from beginning to end.
Try to match the stages you identified with those discussed
Perceived conflict: Potential conflicts are precipitated
by how individuals 'see' each other. These perceptions determine
whether conflict will occur.
Felt conflict: As mentioned in the definition of conflict,
people's feelings and attitudes towards each other, and the
particular cause of conflict, will further affect their eventual
Manifest conflict: Based on the two stages above confrontation
will occur, being either conflictive or problem-solving.
Conflict resolution: At some point in the process
conflict will either be resolved, or it will be suppressed.
Resolution aftermath: Depending on the outcome of
the resolution the future situation might lead to further
conflict or to co-operation.
Conflict management is one of the activities that a school
head is exposed to on a daily basis. The types of conflict
a school head is exposed to are not restricted to the domain
of the school, and in many cases can involve the community
and other stakeholders.
List the conflict situations you have had to deal with over
the past two months.
If one is to analyse the list you have produced, one assumption
that holds true for all the cases is that problems must be
solved. It is therefore on this assumption that school heads
have to develop their skills in the area of conflict resolution.
What is conflict resolution?
'Resolution of conflict occurs when parties involved understand
each other's position accurately. They are willing to discuss
it, because they want to resolve the conflict, regardless
of their disagreements. Resolution occurs only when the parties
try to reach mutually satisfying solutions.'
In the past school heads have depended upon a well established
hierarchy in authority. The person on top could make rapid
decisions and act autocratically when necessary. This was
often used to 'resolve' conflict situations, but were these
solutions lasting and effective in the long-term?
The definition of conflict resolution posed above assumes
a method of problem-solving that is more democratic in its
approach and allows those affected to be involved. The next
section suggests some ways in which you might want to approach
conflict resolution in the future.
Techniques of conflict resolution
When attempting to reach agreement in a conflict situation
it may be useful to take note of the five causes of conflict
usually described by writers. These are differences based
on a clash of:
Writers identify three styles of reaction to conflict. These
aggressive ('fight it')
assertive ('negotiate it')
passive ('duck it').
Five skills for negotiating conflict can also be identified.
look for 'win-win' (where all parties to the conflict
feel that they have gained something)
act at the right time
check out the results.
These approaches to conflict resolution are valuable and
instructive. They embody certain techniques which are very
useful in reducing tension between persons or groups, but
they do put great emphasis on the school head and her or his
skill in being able to negotiate a satisfactory resolution
to a conflict.
In dealing with potential conflicts you might want to consider
Ten hints on conflict resolution
1 Nurture a positive atmosphere.
2 Clarify perceptions of yourself and your position.
3 Clarify perceptions of the other parties.
4 Clarify perceptions of the causes of the conflict.
5 Clarify the underlying factors of the cause.
6 Be in charge of your responses.
7 Encourage parties to express feelings.
8 Focus on shared needs and goals.
9 Generate options.
10 Develop and implement 'do-able' parts.
One way of positive conflict management is negotiation. Negotiation
has been defined as: 'A transaction in which both parties
have a veto on the final outcome'.
In other words, each party in a negotiation has to consent
to the outcome if it is to be implemented and each has an
interest in the other agreeing to it. Thus by negotiating
we make a joint decision.
According to this definition, negotiation is something we
do every day in our personal, professional or business capacities.
For example, people negotiate with their spouses on whether
they spend their money on new household furniture, with their
children on which household chores they have to do. They negotiate
a salary increase with their bosses and may be part of formal
high level negotiations on local, regional, national or international
policy or business issues.
We are constantly encouraged to become participants in the
development process. Participation means shared decision-making
which means reaching agreement. Successful participation is
dependent on the skill of negotiation.
Negotiation is not easy. The majority of people only know
two ways of negotiation, namely gentle and soft or tough and
hard. Whatever position is taken involves a trade-off between
getting what the parties want and keeping a good relationship
between the negotiating parties.
A different method of negotiation has been successfully employed.
It is called Principled Negotiation or Negotiation on the
Merits and was developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project.
This method is valuable because it can be used everywhere
by anybody to negotiate anything.
It will be helpful to have a quick look at the strategies
people usually follow when employing this method. Each party
takes up a position, defends it and makes a series of concessions
until an agreement is reached or when the negotiations break
down because the parties could not make any additional concessions
on their positions. One problem with this kind of bargaining
is that the main concern becomes the positions of the parties
and not the issues which brought the group together in the
first place. It is usually a very long process, emotionally
draining, but it can produce agreements which will be acceptable
to all in the most efficient and friendly way as possible.
The method consists of four points which deal with the basics
of negotiation. They are people, interests, options and criteria.
Separate the people from the problem. This first point is
important because negotiators are people with their own emotions,
beliefs, likes and dislikes which influence the way they perceive
the problem and search for a solution. It is thus imperative
that negotiating parties identify the problem and work together
to solve the problem and do not spend the time trying to attack
and change the people involved in the negotiation process.
Focus on interests and not on the position. This second critical
point emphasises the importance of identifying and focusing
on the negotiating parties' real interests and not on their
positions. Ask the basic question 'why?' to find out your
own and the other party's real interests. Moreover, the most
powerful, but often most overlooked interests are the universal
basic human needs, that is, economic well-being, security,
social acceptance, a sense of belonging and control over one's
own life. But above all listen to what is being said.
Generate a wide variety of possibilities before reaching a
decision. Set aside a special time for the parties to invent
a wide variety of possible solutions to the problem. It has
been found that the major obstacles to inventing options are:
the search for the single answer
the assumption of a fixed pie
assuming that 'solving their problem is their problem'.
To overcome these obstacles it will be necessary to:
1 Separate the act of judging from the act of inventing options.
One strategy to use is that of brainstorming.
2 Look for multiple options by using a Circle Chart which
encourages different modes of thinking on the same subject.
3 Try and find mutual gain by identifying shared interests.
4 Make the solution of their problem also your problem by
actively trying to understand their position and coming up
with shared solutions.
Insist that the result be based on objective and standard
criteria by which results can be measured. This will ensure
a fair solution.
These four points are important and relevant throughout the
Strategies of conflict resolution
A popular way of describing conflict resolution strategies
is in terms of winning and losing.
These strategies can be broadly described as follows:
Win - lose
The outcome of this strategy is that one party loses and one
wins. In most cases this strategy is unsatisfactory, and in
all probability the conflict will erupt at a later stage.
Lose - lose
Both parties lose in the deal: usually a third party is involved,
and tries to reach a compromise that is seldom acceptable
to either of the parties.
Win - win
Both parties are satisfied with the outcome, and the focus
is on solving the problem and not defeating each other.
In negotiating a solution to a conflict situation the
aim of the resolution process should always be to strengthen
the future relationship of the parties involved.
The conflict situation can have mutual advantages and benefits
if approached in the right manner, and with the right attitude
towards a possible resolution.
Striving for a win - win strategy so that both parties can
be satisfied with the outcome is the ideal route for a school
head to follow. Conflicts should be solved democratically.
Make use of a mediator when necessary.