3.3.1 Conflict resolution
… much of the skill involved in partnership work centres on dealing with problems, difficulties, conflicts and tensions.
We have already come across a number of ways in which partnership working provides opportunities for conflict, including: different mindsets; different styles of communication; the stereotypes that people hold of each other; and differences – both genuine (e.g. in values and beliefs) and perceived (as a result of misunderstandings, due to all of the above and lack of communication), along with perceived differences of power, risks and responsibilities.
At times, you may think it is important to ‘stick to your guns’, particularly if a fundamental principle or value is at stake. At other times, you might need to be prepared to compromise, to negotiate your position with partners and be able to resolve conflicts that might arise between you. Handling differences of opinion in a developmental, rather than a confrontational way, is an important skill.
Thomas (1976) suggests that there are five main conflict management ‘styles’:
- Competitive: when people are keen to win the argument and get their own way.
- Accommodating: when people want to be liked – so they tend to do what other people want them to do, pleasing others rather than themselves.
- Avoidance: when people try to steer clear of conflict, avoiding people and situations that they think are likely to lead to conflict, hoping that it will just go away.
- Compromise: when people are prepared to give and take, to find the middle ground, to trade.
- Collaboration: trying to find ways in which everyone can win.
Thomas argues that you need to be able to operate in each of these ways, as appropriate, in different situations. For example, competing is important when you know you are right or when the issue is very important to you or your organisation. You have to prepare to make a stand where core values are at stake.
Compromising may be appropriate when the people involved hold similar levels of power, have important goals in mind, and there isn’t time to engage in the collaborative approach that partnerships are ideally aiming for – but which take longer. There may also be some situations in which ‘win-win’ is not possible.
Negotiation is one process through which conflicts can be resolved. It is also a process that you need to go through when you develop any partnership agreement. In reality, it is something that we do at an informal level every day.