One of the underlying dynamics of conflict is to slow things down. That may be in the form of a “distraction” (like a lover’s quarrel) or a “shootout” (where there is blood on the floor) or even a “nuclear event” (where everyone gets hurt). But everything else has to adjust to a problem in making things happen.
On the one hand, this can be productive. Getting people to stop may be critical to identifying a problem that is not generally seen. And I think that Steve jobs (a master at creating conflict) was very focused on getting people to see things in a fresh light. So it is not surprising that he generated a lot of conflict.
On the other hand, it can be destructive. Going nuclear is the most obvious example. Getting into shootouts also has long term effects. Screamers take note! But more pernicious are frozen conflicts. These cause people to lose hope.
The weird thing is that it can be very difficult to tell if a conflict is about principles (that may be worth fighting about) or if the principles are used as an excuse just to throw sand in the machine. And high minded conflicts have a way of degenerating to the point where the original principles at issue are forgotten.
For that reason, conflict managers need to be very sensitive to how principles are employed during conflict. Are they really just a distraction? Is there something else going on that elevates their relative importance? There often is. .
That is what conflict looks like, right? Like the header that I just installed above. It is when it is, in a sense. Suddenly the outside world intrudes and one is stuck with a problem, like Jimmy Stewart. But that is just one frame.
Conflict can also look like stuff is frozen. No guns, not argument. Just stuck in time. Again, the outside world intrudes. And this is commonly referred to as a culture problem.
How to get beyond this? Good question — and an important question. Part of the answer may have to do with the culture. Part of it may have to do with you. How you contribute to the situation or help get beyond it. Interested? Let me know with a comment. We can talk.
I had two long meetings today about tensions in a group. The meetings were important. But they were not important because of the facts or new information or new ideas. The meetings were important because different people had very different perceptions about what is going on.
It sounds strange, but there it is. And this happens all the time. It is critical in relating to folks, especially in a project setting, based on what they see — not just what you want them to see. But sadly, this is a skill set that is not taught in our schools.
An interesting question. When can conflict be resolved by negotiation and when is that not possible? Having better answers to this question could help us avoid wasting time trying to get parties to the negotiating table. And if factors stand in the way of starting negotiation, they may also hamper negotiations that are already started.
As it turns out, there is some research on this. That research suggests that perceptions of (1) relative power and (2) desire to change or maintain the status quo dominate thinking in whether a party will agree to talk.
There is a lot to think about there – perceptions versus reality, creating and changing perceptions, power demonstrations, power realities, and the value added of change versus status quo. Interesting stuff!