Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Diagnostic Tool for Managing Conflict at its Sources

To successfully resolve a conflict or dispute, Alex Colvin (Cornell), Dionne Pohler (Saskatchewan), and I assert that you must first understand its roots or sources, and then appropriately match a dispute resolution method. We call this "managing conflict at its sources." To this end, we’ve created a three-part typology of the roots of conflict—specifically, structural, cognitive, and dispositional sources of conflict—to facilitate the identification of effective dispute resolution methods tailored to the particular sources of a given dispute. 

This can be facilitated by a diagnostic tool that helps parties to a conflict ask the right questions. For starters,

1. Diagnose the structural nature of the relationship between the parties

  • What are their interests or goals, rights, and sources of power? 
  • What are their value orientations or identity needs?
  • What are the rules or institutions that govern their relationship?
  • Are there scarce resources involved? 
  • Why are the parties in a relationship together? Are there better alternative options? How much does their success depend on the other’s?
  • If there are reasons for a lasting interdependency, are their interests mostly able to be aligned (mutual self-benefit), mostly conflicting with each, or a mixture of both?

2. Diagnose the cognitive sources of conflict

  • What cognitive frames shape how each participant perceives and interprets the situation, and influences desired action? This can reflect culture, individual experiences, and individual preferences.  
  • Are there cognitive limitations (e.g., information overload) or cognitive biases (e.g., loss aversion, anchoring, framing, fixed-pie perception, exaggeration of conflict, illusions of transparency, decision fatigue, or overconfidence)?
  • Are there information limitations, imbalances, and/or uncertainties?
  • Are there intergroup tensions based on in-group/out-group identification?
  • Are there sources of miscommunication, such as noisy communication channels, different meanings, incorrect filtering of intent, and misinterpretation of nonverbal cues and personal demeanor?

3. Diagnose the dispositional sources of conflict

  • What emotions or mood might be positively or negatively affecting the situation?
  • Are there personality factors that shape how one or more participants feel, think, and/or behave? 
  • Are there differences in personality that clash?

Not all of these will apply in every situation. But for those that do, the diagnostic tool then helps connect these underlying sources with the implications for how to manage this kind of conflict. 

The animated version of "Managing Conflict at its Sources" also provides an introductory overview: 

 



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