Welcome to the last (fascinating) topic of our course: Conflict Resolution. Up to now, we’ve set the foundation for the structure of a negotiation, the importance of effective communication and the capacity to create value through interests. Now it’s necessary to see how to keep (and enrich) these achievements without being threatened by conflict because we lack the skills to avoid the negotiation getting out of control and hindering potential agreements and damaging relationships permanently. Conflict resolution is such a complex process just like negotiation and requires a careful analysis of the roots and ways to utilize it in a timely fashion, from a professional, family, cultural, or political perspective. According to the institution Saylor Academy (Negotiations and Conflict Management),
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conflict is inherent to human nature
and is manifested in many different ways in our daily life. Remember that last time you had a disagreement with a colleague at work, when you had to face an unhappy student, or when you expressed your dissatisfaction of a recent purchase that didn’t meet your expectations. In the work environment, it’s impossible that our points of view, objectives, and intentions are totally in agreement all the time. When these differences are expressed in a combative tone, with aggression, the work climate deteriorates and interpersonal relationships can be destroyed. However, when managed adequately, conflict can become a valuable resource that generates a really positive influence on negotiation processes. When conflict is resolved effectively, it brings opportunities for uncommon learning about ideas and novel opinions, and generates a deeper understanding of others, helping us strengthen our personal and professional relationships. To achieve this, we need to learn to diagnose conflict and apply strategies for problem solving as related to such conflict. At this point, it’s necessary to clarify the relationship between Conflict Resolution and Conflict Management, which are often used synonymously in the literature, but they have different meanings, although they can be considered as compatible and complementary processes. Let’s see: Conflict Resolution seeks to resolve, as its name implies, the incompatibility between interests and behaviors that are inherent to the conflict, in order to resolve it and attend to the underlying interests, finding mutually acceptable solutions that lead to lasting relationships and satisfactory results. On the other hand, Conflict Management seeks to control the intensity of a conflict and suggests taking certain actions to avoid future escalation. It makes use of negotiation, mediation, litigation, arbitration, and other mechanisms. When we use conflict resolution in a negotiation, we are focusing on the problem, not on the person; when a conflict becomes personalized, it becomes a confrontation and this is where conflict management is needed, which is more common in disciplines like government and political science. Let’s illustrate by an example. A young couple faces a situation in which there are differences of opinion that are frequently displayed, causing irritation when rigid, unmovable postures are maintained with respect to their positions. One day they decide to have coffee at a café that they used to go to when they were going together. As could be expected, beautiful memories of the past are recalled, and suddenly when they retake the subject of the conflict, it is now in another context. And this causes the magic question to come up: Why? and little by little their interests become manifest and then the potential to find common ground and the possibility of a conciliation appear. Up to here there has been conflict resolution (negotiating based on interests). On the other hand, someone could stubbornly insist on their position, eliminating the possibilities for an agreement, including the intervention of the in laws, brothers, and drinking buddies, friends, etc., etc. And this would include the often damaging, senseless advice that we often find on social media, with opinions such as, “all men are like that” (stereotypes) and “women don’t’ understand these things” (bias) etc., etc…. It is at this moment when instead of trying to understand the problem, we resort to blaming or stigmatizing the other person; in other words, from conflict resolution to conflict management. Conflict escalation needs different measures in negotiation, starting with the need to consult experts, the intervention of a mediator, and it can even reach the need for litigation, arbitration, and the predictable consequences. Negotiation is always the best way to solve a conflict, even if we have to recognize that there are situations that demand more drastic methods in spite of the consequences. My recommendation is to exhaust all the possibilities, strategies, and approaches of the negotiation before the conflict escalates and goes out of control. Try it! It’s definitely worth the effort. We’ve insisted that distributive negotiation because of its inherent nature constitutes a paradigm of “win-win” in which the parties involved create tension by trying to take away the greatest part of the goods available. But when conflict appears in a negotiation, and is not dealt with correctly, these negotiations become “lose-lose” and affect both the results as well as the relationship, the two variables in every negotiation. By correctly understanding the origin of the conflict and how to prevent its escalation, we can probably achieve agreements based on interests, creating value and productive long-term relationships. To do so, we will try to go deeper into the topic of Conflict Resolution, as a better alternative to Conflict Management.