Frameworks help analyze conflict, and the deeper our understanding of conflict, the greater our ability to handle it effectively. Like the steel girders in a skyscraper, a framework gives conflict shape. How we view conflict will impact our attitude and approach to it. One framework for analyzing conflict, as described in “The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide” by Bernard Mayer, involves the three areas of perception, feeling, and action. In this blog post, we’ll break down these ideas as they relate to conflict frameworks.
Perception in conflict can mean that one’s own needs or values are incompatible with another’s. It can be subjective, like you believe your manager’s style of leadership is inconsistent with your views on management or objective, where you want to build a playground in the neighborhood park and someone else wants to put in a much-needed parking lot. If only one person believes there is a conflict, then it exists whether others feel the same.
Conflict involves an emotional reaction to a situation that signals a disagreement and various types of ensuing emotions, such as rage, fear, sadness or hopelessness. When we experience these feelings regarding another person, we experience conflict. However, sometimes only one person experiences an emotional reaction, and the other person doesn’t share the same feelings and is unaware of the opposing party’s feelings. Emotions are the cause of many conflicts. When emotions are expressed openly and discussed, this can often resolve at least a portion of the conflict.
When someone behaves in a certain way or takes certain actions to express feelings and get their needs met, and this interferes with someone else’s ability to satisfy his or her needs, conflict will result. The behavior can be destructive, like yelling or striking someone. It can be more subtle like body language that connotes displeasure. Or it can be constructive and positive. Regardless of the tone, the purpose of conflict action is either to express the conflict or get one’s needs met. The beliefs people have about conflict significantly impact how they behave in a conflict situation.
Tying it Together
Conflict in one dimension doesn’t necessarily cause a change in another dimension. Think of conflict as existing only when it clearly manifests itself along one of the three dimensions. For example, a person who expresses their feelings to their colleague may not feel the need to behave in a way that expresses these feelings indirectly, such as through cynical remarks about the person they were upset with.
Moreover, conflict rarely moves in a linear direction. Rather, it moves in waves where people are dealing with different dynamics in different dimensions, each reacting accordingly. This is what makes conflict so challenging to resolve. If a conflict is resolved on one of these dimensions, it may still be percolating in another. Being aware of the ways in which people are experiencing conflict can help leaders foster understanding and resolution.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She is one of eight Maryland mediators featured on a statewide demonstration video of good mediation practice. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse clients in Washington, DC and the US. Get in touch with her via email, and follow her on LinkedIn, and Twitter.