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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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5 Understanding conflict constructively

Conflict is not necessarily bad or unproductive, either from the point of view of the organisation as a whole, or from the point of view of the individuals or groups within it. It is important to realise that whether a conflict is viewed as constructive or destructive will depend very much on the position and point of view of the people observing it. A dispute between two departmental managers over their respective shares of new resources may benefit the organisation because it creates a better understanding of the two departments’ needs, but it may still be painful for one or both of the individuals involved.

There are several ways in which conflict can have benefits.

Improved interpersonal relations

  • People need room to release the strong feelings that they are likely to have about at least some aspects of work and their colleagues. This is probably healthier than harbouring anger or resentment.
  • We often fail to realise how strongly someone feels about certain issues. A sudden confrontation may help to reveal why particular relationships have not been successful and so help to improve them in future.

Improved group dynamics

  • Conflict can help to improve group dynamics by revealing personal agendas and laying the foundation for appropriate group goals, norms and procedures.
  • If some group members are able to disagree in an open way, this can encourage other, less confident or less assertive members of a group to contribute their ideas more actively.

Improved ideas and practices

  • Being forced to justify ideas may help a person or a group to think them through more clearly and vigorously.
  • Hearing alternative suggestions and ideas may enable a group to arrive at a better solution to the problem at hand.
  • The conflict may reveal some deeper underlying structural or procedural problem that needs to be addressed. For example, a volunteer organiser felt herself to be the focus of personal conflict from the volunteers. When she confronted one or two of them about it, she discovered that the problem actually lay with the new rotas.