Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

In any partnership or systems change effort, conflict will occur at some point in the endeavor. CCDF Administrators may want to be aware of their role in facilitating and managing conflict when it happens and be prepared to have a conflict resolution plan as one of their tools for effective communication.

Conflict resolution refers to methods and processes involved in facilitating a successful resolution. Conflict occurs when at least two interdependent parties or factions reflect real or perceived incompatible goals, scarce rewards or resources, and interference from the other party or faction in achieving goals. It involves both feelings and facts. At its root, conflict is about differences and arises with disagreement about information, processes or methods, goals, or values. A wide range of methods and procedures for addressing conflict exist, including negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, and creative peace-building. Conflict can have positive results, such as improved decision-making and products.

Sometimes, you may find it helpful to define what kind of conflict is occurring. Conflict occurs at different levels, each with increasing difficulty in their resolution:

  1. Facts or data: this occurs when differing information exists. This is the simplest conflict to resolve by filling in the missing information that caused the misunderstanding.
  2. Processes or methods: this occurs when individuals or groups disagree on how to proceed.
  3. Goals or purpose: this occurs when there is disagreement on a direction for the group.
  4. Values: this conflict is the most difficult to mitigate and is often based on cultural assumptions or basic meaning. Sometimes, conflict at this level is addressed by “agreeing to disagree,” respecting the differences, and learning to trust the good intentions of the other.

A classic model for framing conflict is to look at one’s style of responding to conflict and the styles represented in the group. Based on two variables, assertiveness (regard or concern for oneself) or cooperation (regard or concern for others), theorists Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas identified five conflict response styles:[1]

  • Avoidance
  • Accommodation
  • Compromise
  • Competition
  • Collaboration

An individual may tend to use one style more readily than others. Depending on the circumstances of the conflict, any of these responses may be appropriate. Each yields different results. Avoidance and accommodation provide ways to appease aggression or postpone conflict, buying time. Competition may be appropriate at times but offers a “win-lose” solution. Compromise and collaboration offer approaches for “win-win” solutions but require negotiation and lengthy, candid conversation to define issues.

Should the conflict be drawn out, you may consider it wise to bring in an outside facilitator or mediator to guide any conversation leading to resolution. Sometimes, conflicts must just be managed rather than resolved, and participants learn to live with and respect the differences.

 

[1] Kilmann, R., & Thomas, K. (1975). Interpersonal conflict-handling behavior as reflections of Jungian personality dimensions. Psychological Reports, 37(3), 971–980.