The conflict process—that is, the process by which conflict arises—can be seen in five stages. Those stages are:
Potential Opposition or Incompatibility
The first stage in the conflict process is the existence of conditions that allow conflict to arise. The existence of these conditions doesn’t necessarily guarantee conflict will arise. But if conflict does arise, chances are it’s because of issues regarding communication, structure, or personal variables.
Cognition and Personalization
In the last section, we talked about how conflict only exists if it’s perceived to exist. If it’s been determined that potential opposition or incompatibility exists and both parties feel it, then conflict is developing.
If Joan and her new manager, Mitch, are having a disagreement, they may perceive it but not be personally affected by it. Perhaps Joan is not worried about the disagreement. It is only when both parties understand that conflict is brewing, and they internalize it as something that is affecting them, that this stage is complete.
Intentions come between people’s perceptions and emotions and help those who are involved in the potential conflict to decide to act in a particular way.
One has to infer what the other person meant in order to determine how to respond to a statement or action. A lot of conflicts are escalated because one party infers the wrong intentions from the other person. There are five different ways a person can respond to the other party’s statements or actions.
We’ll talk about this a little more in the next section when we use these styles to manage conflict.
Behavior is the stage where conflict becomes evident, as it includes the statements, actions and reactions of the parties involved in the conflict. These behaviors might be overt attempts to get the other party to reveal intentions, but they have a stimulus quality that separates them from the actual intention stage.
Behavior is the actual dynamic process of interaction. Perhaps Party A makes a demand on Party B, Party B argues back, Party A threatens, and so on. The intensity of the behavior falls along a conflict oriented continuum. If the intensity is low, the conflict might just be a minor misunderstanding, and if the intensity is high, the conflict could be an effort to harm or even destroy the other party.
Outcomes of a conflict can be either functional or dysfunctional:
Managing conflict in today’s business world is a must. We’ll look next at how that’s done.
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