Conflicts do not just occur by themselves or pop up from nowhere. It is critical to discover the source of the conflict.  Generally these are the categories of conflicts:

   • Communication Differences
   • Structural Differences
   • Personal Differences

Communication Differences
These are usually disagreements due to semantic difficulties, misunderstandings and too much noise in the communication channel. People are often quick to assume that most conflicts are caused by a lack of communication. However, there is generally a lot of communication happening. The mistake many people make is assuming good communication means having others agree to their views. Examples of communication differences are:

     • Differences Over Facts
A fact is a piece of data that can be quantified or an event that can be documented. Arguments over facts should not last very long since they are verifiable. But a statement like, “It is a fact that you are rude and you stab me in the back”, is neither documentable or quantifiable and so is actually a difference in perception.

     • Misunderstanding
Most interpersonal conflict is actually due to communication breakdown.  And when it does, a listener’s assumptions about a speaker’s intent often create interpersonal conflict.

     • Unfulfilled Expectations
Many of the causes listed above contribute to one person not fulfilling the expectations of another. Unfulfilled expectations are the ultimate cause of divorce, separation, firings and other forms of relational breakdown. The major reason that expectations go unfulfilled is that they are not effectively communicated and confirmed.

     • Structural Differences
Organisations are differentiated both horizontally and vertically. Management divides up the work or job to be done, groups similar tasks into departments and sets up rules and procedures for the different departments. This structural differentiation can result in conflicts as employees argue over goals, decision alternatives, performance reviews and resource allocation. Some examples:

     • Differences Over Goals
An argument about whether a company should focus more resources on one department over another is a disagreement over goals. Another example would be whether or not to increase the amount of advanced professional training given to some employees over others.

     • Differences Over Methods
Two sides may have similar goals but disagree on how to attain them. For example, how should a particular project be implemented?

     • Competition For Scarce Resources
Two managers might argue over who has the greater need for an additional staff or who should have more budget allocation.

     • Competition For Supremacy
This happens when one employee strives to outperform or outshine another person. You might see it when two employees compete for a promotion or incentive or for comparative power in an organisation.

     • Personal Differences
Conflicts can and often evolve out of differences in individual behaviour & personal value systems. The chemistry between some people makes it hard for them to work or interact together. Factors such as family background, education, experience and training shape each person into a unique individual with a particular set of values. These personal differences can cause people to be perceived as being stubborn, too sensitive or peculiar which often results in conflict. Examples of personal differences are:

     • Prejudice / Bias
Conflict is sometimes traced to ‘personalities’. This is one person differing with another based simply on how he or she feels or perceives about that person.

     • Nastiness
Some people go through life with a chip on their shoulder and seem to search for fights with others.

     • Overly Sensitive
This occurs when a person, due to low self-esteem, insecurity or difficulties in his or her life easily feels attacked by feedback, criticism or other interpersonal directness.

     • Differences In Perception or Values
Most conflict results from the way people view the world with their own perception or mental map or internal representation. These incongruent views are due to differences in upbringing, culture, race, experience, education, occupation and other environmental factors.

Understand and evaluate your preferred style for handling conflicts. Although you should be able to change your style to suit the conflict involved, you must know how you are most likely to behave attempting to select an approach for resolving a particular conflict. Your basic style may be the correct approach for a given situation but in many cases it may not.

Understand The Source Or Identify The Cause
Analyse the situation. Determine if the conflict is a result of communication, structural or personal differences.

Be Aware Of Your Options
In the problem solving process, this step is labelled as ‘Decide What To Do’. There are basically five conflict resolution strategies:
     • Avoidance
     • Accommodation
     • Forcing
     • Compromise
     • Collaboration

Each has particular strengths and weaknesses. No one strategy is ideal for all situations.

Select The Best Option
This is taking action in the problem solving process. The best solution is determined by your own definition of ‘best’. There are three components to consider in defining best:

     • Importance of the Issue
     • Speed of Resolution
     • Maintaining Harmony.

All other things being equal, if the importance of the issue is critical to success, collaboration is the best option. If time is the major factor, forcing, accommodation and compromise - in that order - are preferred. If maintaining harmony is important, the best strategies in order of preference are accommodation, collaboration, compromise and avoidance. A caution must be made about avoidance. Some people seek to avoid conflict at any price. If you are such a person - always worried about face - you should guard against this tendency.

A final consideration in selecting the best option is the source of the conflict. Collaboration usually works best in communication differences. Personal differences can be resolved many times by avoidance but if the issue must be settled then forcing is a workable option. Structural conflicts can be resolved by any of the options depending upon the particular issue involved.

How Can Both Parties Win?
Everyone hopes for a win-win solution on resolving conflicts but this can only be achieved with the concerted efforts of both parties.

Following are some useful guidelines for resolving conflicts collaboratively:

     1. Each person expresses his position,  reasoning, feelings and interests that lie behind his positions thoroughly. Do not just disagree over positions but do the best to communicate and understand the ideas and interests that led both persons to develop their positions. Expression of anger and other feelings identifies specific issues, highlights the importance of the conflict and releases energy.

     2. Show understanding of each other’s feelings and opinions. Throughout the conflict, demonstrate acceptance of the other person and convey appreciation of the other’s competence and strength. Politeness and gestures of affection also help. Be hard on the problem but soft on people.

    3. Recognise that both persons are responsible for the issue and both can benefit by its resolution. Focus on working together to resolve the conflict.

    4. If possible, ask a colleague or superior to help mediate the conflict.
    5. Define the problem as specifically and clearly as possible to the agreement of both persons. Specific problems are more easily resolved than grand issues. Identify the specific behaviours that are interfering and frustrating rather than use general labels or fight over “personality”.

     6. Examine the problem from different perspectives to develop various possible solutions. Avoid assuming that the choice is simply between the position favoured by one person or the position favoured by the other. Craft solutions that satisfy the most important interests of both persons. Use brainstorming where appropriate.

     7. Choose a high quality solution consistent with the facts of the situation and reasonable. It should also be fair and advantageous to both persons. Do not agree out of passiveness or fear or weakness.

     8. Clarify how both persons should carry out the solution and set a time frame or deadline to measure progress in resolving the underlying conflict.

      9.    Reflect and review the discussion. Acknowledge each other’s efforts and risks, celebrate the joint success and emphasize how both can now work more effectively in the future.

This tactic is when one does not immediately pursue his own concern or those of others. Each conflict does not require an assertive action. Sometimes avoidance is the best solution by  just withdrawing from the conflict or ignoring its existence. Avoidance is useful when the conflict issue is trivial, when tempers are heated & time is needed to cool down or when further potential disruption from an assertive action outweighs the benefits of resolution.
When to use avoidance strategies:

     • If you do not fully understand the cause or details of the conflict.
     • 1f 2 conflicting parties can not reconcile differences after many attempts.
     • If relationship is not strong enough to absorb overt conflict.
     • If one attempts to place you or others for purpose in a conflict.
     • Stake in a conflict is low but the situation may damage working relationships.
     • If you face severe time constraints.

Accommodating is the opposite of competing where an individual neglects his own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others. The goal of accommodation is to maintain harmony by placing another’s needs and concerns above your own. This strategy works best when the issue in dispute is not that important to you or when you want to build up credits for later issues.

When to use accommodating strategies:
     • If an argument is in ‘full flight’.
     • When trying to win someone over.
     • When dealing with an influential boss or other actor.
     • When issue is more important to the other & must be resolved quickly.
     • When strong working relationships are more important than other

Competing is a power-oriented mode in which one uses whatever power seems appropriate to win one’s position, usually at the expense of others.
In forcing, you attempt to satisfy your own needs at the expense of the other person. Forcing is a useful option when the situation needs a quick resolution on important issues where unpopular actions must be taken and where commitment by others to your solution is not critical.

When to use competing strategies:
     • If a quick, tidy decision is vital.
     • If the conflicting parties will not budge from their position.
     • When conflicting parties will not even discuss an issue.
     • When you feel compelled to maintain a strong position.
     • When your relationship with the other person is unimportant.

Compromising falls between competing and accommodating. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution which partially satisfies both parties. The compromise option requires each party to give up something of value. Compromising is generally best when the conflicting parties are about equal in power, when it is desirable to achieve a temporary solution to a complex problem or when time pressures demand a fast resolution.

When to use compromise strategies:
     • If a conflict goes on for an unreasonable period of time.
     • When other employees begin to take sides in a conflict.
     • When an employee’s performance on the job is affected by the conflict.
     • When conflicting parties may be willing to meet half-way.
     • When issues are critical and very complex.
     • When conflicting parties request a third-party solution.
     • When both parties have equal power and need a good working relationship.

Collaborating involves an attempt to work with the other person to find a solution which fully satisfies the concerns of both persons. This option is the ultimate win-win solution. All parties to the conflict seek to satisfy their interests. It requires positive assertiveness on all sides - open, honest and respectful communication. It works best when time pressures are minimal, when all parties seriously want a win-win solution or when the issues are too important to be compromised.

A collaborative problem-solving outline:
     • Admit a conflict exists.
     • Confront the problem or conflict.
     • Brainstorm possible options or alternatives.
     • Select an option or reach agreement.
     • Look to the future.
Conflict Resolution
     • Winning the point will cause more trouble than its worth.
     • Tempers need to calm down to allow a clear perspective.
     • Someone else can handle the situation better.
     • You need to gather facts about the situation.
     • You need to clarify your own thoughts about the situation.

Dominate when:
     • An emergency calls for quick, decisive action.
     • Non-negotiable points have to be enforced.

Concede when:
     • You are in the wrong and you need to be seen to be reasonable.
     • The issue is more important to others than it is to you.
     • You need someone to do something for you. You need to cut your losses if you are losing and      your situation will not get better.
     • You need to gain favours for another time.
     • The relationship is more important than you being right.

Compromise when:
     • You need a temporary settlement to a complicated issue.
     • Time is running out and you need a workable solution.
     • You are up against an equal with an opposite goal.
     • Your point is important but not worth the time and hassle of being more assertive.
     • Your personal goals and the relationship are both of moderate importance.

Collaborate when:
     • Each person’s position and relationship are too important to compromise
     • You need to learn something from others.
     • You need to unify different points of view.
     • You need to get total commitment from all.
     • It is important to repair a damaged relationship.

Winning Isn’t Everything
Anytime you have two or more people together in the workplace, you have potential for conflict. A large chunk of a manager’s time is spent dealing with conflicts. Conflicts do not have to be associated with anger, violence or even ill feeling.

Conflicts can occur any time there is a difference of interests, understanding, values or beliefs, style, opinions or perceptions. The consequences of conflicts can be anger, sadness, frustration, stress, disappointment, violence, waste, confusion, etc.

It is generally accepted that there are five ways of dealing with conflict. There is no single ‘best’ way - the situation and the consequences of how the conflict is addressed will indicate the best approach for each situation.