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Conflict in Groups

Conflict is an inevitable part of life and exists when people don’t agree on an issue, decision or action. Some conflicts are minor and dealt with easily, while other conflicts can be major and require a significant amount of time and attention.

Four Major Causes of Conflict

  • Lack of communication – what you are hearing versus what is being said
  • Difference of opinion, attitudes, beliefs
  • Past history
  • Varied expectations

Five Methods to Address Conflict
Five basic methods often are used to resolve conflict if it does arise in a group. These methods are avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise, and collaboration

MethodDefinitionWhen AppropriateWhen Inappropriate
Avoidance (denial) Problem solved by denying it even exists. Conflict is small and not worth the time to respond.  More time is needed to gather information. Issue is important. A decision is needed quickly and postponing will make matters worse.
Accommodation (smoothing over) Differences in the group are suppressed. Everyone is asked to try to get along even though it may involve one person giving in to another. Conflict is small and not worth the time to respond.  Preserving relationships are important. Issue needs to be addressed immediately.
Competition (exercise power) Using personal power to make a point. This is a win/lose situation. The method has been agreed upon beforehand. The group should accept that one party will win. Those on the losing end cannot express their needs.
Compromise (negotiation) Individuals seek middle ground. Each party must give up something. Both parties are willing to reduce some demands. Compromise saves time and efforts. Initial demands are too great. No one is committed to honoring the compromise.
Collaboration No winner or loser but the emphasis is on a group solution. Time is available for all parties to share their views.  Members are willing to change their thinking. Time is limited or not enough trust, respect, and communication exists in the group.

Source: Lynette Flage, 2011 “Managing Conflict” FS-1563 NDSU Extension Service

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