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Am I in conflict?

Dealing with conflict can be challenging. Some people prefer to ignore a conflict until it becomes unbearable. Some would rather address it as soon as it comes to their attention. Others prefer to avoid it altogether and at all costs. In the Office of the Ombudsman, we know that, for all the existing ways to avoid conflict, we have just as many (if not more) ways to productively manage it. In our past few articles, we've written about some of the various tools and techniques that can be helpful if you find yourself dealing with workplace conflict--aiming to help you develop "conflict competency."


When you're in conflict, it does not always manifest itself in an overly aggressive way, or what we might usually think of on hearing the word "conflict." Conflict can simmer at a low level and comes in a variety of types. Consider that time you told your supervisor, "Whatever you want is fine. Just tell me what you want me to do." In actuality, you weren't fine with it. Did this strike a nerve with you? Did it make you think about your personal values or relationships? Noticing your triggers and knowing what type of conflict you may be facing can go a long way in helping you decide what approach is best or how to productively manage a situation. The first step in resolving conflict might actually be recognizing that you may be facing a conflict! Maybe you didn't share your honest views on a topic or maybe you got upset with someone but didn't let them know why. Most people respond to conflict by seeking to restore harmony, seeking the conflict's logic or seeking a particular outcome. Reflecting on your motivations, as well as those of the other party, can help you decide which approach is best.

Conflicts come in all shapes and sizes. According to Trish Jones, a pioneer in the conflict coaching field, conflict can arise from a threatened identity, a bad feeling or emotion, or a loss of power. To resolve a conflict, a first step, then, is to understand what the conflict is actually about. Having a clear picture of what the issues are reduces the chance of a mismatch between the problem and the solution. When people are in conflict, their emotions are heightened. Most people look for a win, as they feel they have been wronged.

While it is very important to understand the emotions that come with conflict, it is also important to understand the type of conflict. To do this, it can be helpful to identify conflicts by their core elements. Our next three articles for State Magazine will be dedicated to identifying and exploring the characteristics and various types of conflict, and what techniques can be helpful in managing them. In our next article we will discuss relationship conflicts, arguably some of the most challenging and yet also some of the easiest conflicts to understand and help people resolve. After that, we'll discuss structural and data conflicts, the types of conflict that we see quite frequently coming up in the Department. Finally, we will talk about value and interest conflicts, which can sometimes go hand in hand, but can also be very powerful in their own right.

To productively manage conflicts, it can be helpful to ask questions and truly try to understand what all the parties are looking to accomplish. Recognizing you're in a conflict situation, and figuring out what type of conflict it is from the conflict's beginning, can help guide and formulate the right questions to ask.

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Title Annotation:Conflict Matters
Author:Dodson, Shireen
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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