Conflict Management By Dianne Irene © 2004

A new sensibility about conflict reflects the ability to channel energy into a positive outcome where resolution is the goal rather than ascertaining a victory of political, personal, or egocentric origin. The power is in how one reacts to situations in life and not always, what is happening. It is rather a comfort to see the higher functioning of individuals in social groups.

However, with moral issues the resolution is not always achieved. One example given by Pierce in Moral Conflict, speaks of two groups disputing over a CIA visit to their campus. Even when negotiations were sought, these two groups displayed reactions that opposed the idea of a new sensibility and “The party line of both sides was that the other had forfeited its right to participate in civilized society” (Pierce, 1997, p. 5). Pierce explains that moral conflicts do not always reach a resolution by “ordinary discourse” (p. 5). Conflict is “the expressed disagreements between people who see incompatible goals and potential interference in achieving these goals. Conflict, then, is defined by its mixed motive nature as entailing both cooperation and competition” (Putnam, 2001, p. 11). Putnam points out that recognizing certain ironies, accepting them, and developing new concepts are important as handling conflict continues to evolve over time (p. 11).

In observing historical development of conflict, personal interests were a non-issue and cooperation was seen as the expected behavior. The irony of this approach is that the conflict would continue to arise regardless of how much cooperation was achieved. While the political or coalition model of organization focused on negotiation and persuasion, there were those, “that lacked voice or necessary alliances typically avoided or tolerated conflict, thereby perpetuating their marginal nature in organizations” (Putnam, 2001, p. 13). While seeing one group as legitimate, the other group risked becoming marginalized (p. 13).

More recently, the quasi-legal perspective focuses on a formal grievance process where “power, rights, and interests” are considered. Formal dispute resolution focuses on interest-based issues where individuals are encouraged to intervene early in the conflict, use face-to-face dialogue, and move these conflicts to the lowest levels (14). Diversity disputes may cause those of minority from being heard within their own terms. Hidden disputes play an important role in factoring resolutions. Putnam explains that unlike, “the formal system, the communication tactics of hidden conflict include complaining, ignoring requests, gossiping, sabotaging, retaliating, having hidden agendas, and engaging in informal peacemaking. Emotional expressions such as venting feelings, being hurt, and showing displeasure become legitimate vehicles for handing conflict” (p. 15). Both formal and informal conflict organizations should balance around the center of how these conflicts grow and change over time and “how participants assert their respective interests in defining and shaping a disagreement” (p. 17).

The future search as described by Weisbord and Janoff (1995) takes the direction on facilitator ship where all should be heard and allowed to express themselves. The facilitator intervenes only when the direction is not moving in a positive direction. Opportunities are the focal point of resolution and problems are only obstacles (pp. 38-39).

Different orientations toward conflict can be explained by anarchy, a realist approach, and the minimalist approach. Anarchy is established as a denial of conflict as the realist represses conflict, and the minimalist tolerates conflict (p. 31). Understanding these orientations lays a foundation of dealing with individual perspectives. Identifying the different types of conflict, whether it is that of a game theorist of theory or math logistics can be changed by “the power of language” (p. 36). Conflict should be seen as a dialogue rather than a monologue. Understanding the conflict is more valuable than knowing how to win and that intervention should be seen as an art (pp. 39-47).

Crum on the other hand eloquently paints a motif of realizations in personal growth and awareness in dealing with conflict. Crum summarizes important realizations in conflict by stating that conflict should be seen as neutral energy that should evoke change with the focus of what you do to react to that conflict. Gaining a victory or suffering a loss is never the goal. Cooperation, growth, and learning are important factors of finding resolutions. Conflict should create a new reality where differences are respected and valued with a renewed awareness of our perceptions (Crum, 1987, p. 49).

Focus of an individual’s perspective has a great impact on the use of energy. Choosing what to concern ourselves with can effect our performance. Thomas Crum points out that distress can greatly influence our well-being and if not handled properly can lead to chronic disease. Stress should then be culminated as an ally where we learn a balance between what is and what we want and accept it.

Having a clear vision of our purpose is imperative to our state of being. Crum notes that this journey follows a pattern of realization on a deeper more meaningful level. It involves a journey beyond the carnal to a place where what matters is, “making a contribution that’s wanted-giving love, being understanding, respecting others, and serving those who need us. Our true vision becomes a verb-to love, to serve, to understand” (Crum, 1987, p. 198).

There should always be a balance between what is and what should be. Appreciative language conveys an appreciation for the balance in a positive light. There is just something about a positive dialogue that brings out a more responsive party. Cooperrider and Witney state that, “Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.” (p.3) It makes sense that if you pour your energy into things that give life fulfillment will follow which leads people to a more productive place. This can also be seen in those who are the opposite. Those who are draining and exhausting are those who are negative and unsatisfied.

If anything is viewed as insincere or over the top then a negative response would be likely. However, when this appreciative approach is used with sincerity then a positive outcome is that of growth and energy. Consider a person that seemed to draw other people in by their magnetism. It was their positive energy that was contagious and warm like the summer sun. Those who wish to negate a philosophy of “positivism” may be neglecting a source of energy for all human beings.

If a moment it taken to see how young children respond to a positive and supportive person then no sophisticated scientific method would be needed to prove that there are benefits to the appreciative approach. It is much like a computer where what is put into a situation becomes the resources for which they become used. If negative attitudes, argumentative approaches, and harsh language are part of the arena, then those are the standards from which we have to work with. A very important factor for successful relationships is good communication. Appreciative language creates a foundation for which that can commence. Cooperrider and Whitney (2004) Ask a profound question of, “What would happen to our change practices if we began all of our work with the positive presumption—that organizations, as centers of human relatedness, are “alive” with infinite constructive capacity?”. (p. 2) When we can answer this in our everyday lives then we will see progress.

This is reinforced by the concept of Transformative orientation, where conflict is seen as an opportunity to grow in self and others. Change comes to the “self” with the realization of how to deal with obscurities and allows a transformation of one’s action and choices in those reactions. On the other hand, the transformation for concern of others materializes a compassion that enables differences to coexist. Both of these transformations lead to moral maturity. (Bush and Folger, 1994) The focus is then to transform the individuals to a higher level of maturity rather than to simply resolve the conflict. (p. 82) According to Bush and Folger (1940), if “this is done, then the response to conflict itself helps transform individuals from fearful, defensive, or self-centered beings into confident, responsive, and caring ones, ultimately transforming society as well. This, of course, is the vision of the Transformation Story of the mediation movement.” Also, when this is achieved on a deep level, “the view that fostering moral growth should be a primary goal of social processes like mediation rests on a belief, grounded in what can be called a Relational vision of human life, that compassionate strength (moral maturity) embodies an intrinsic goodness inherent in human beings.” Once this is realized, “Bringing out that goodness is itself a supremely important human enterprise, because it is the surest if not the only way to produce a truly decent society and because it embodies and expresses the highest and best within us as human beings”. (p. 83)

Along with the transformative approach comes empowerment and recognition that are vital forces to mediation and leads to the most important objective of achieving them. (p. 84) Empowerment enables one to see what is important to them and why, clearly realized goals and the willingness to stand by these goals, understanding options and being aware that there is power in how you react to those choices and feels a responsibility in choosing them, transformation in growth is achieved, and making conscious decisions based on the assessment of the perspectives that are reflective of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. (p. 87)

Beyond self-protection are recognition and the ability to give recognition to the other party. Feeling secure enough to allow a focus on the other party and their situation with a greater understanding is a key step in mediation. Channeling what may be seen as aggressive attacks from another party as a response of frustration and self-preservation allows room for better communication. Moving from a negative approach to a more enlightened awareness of what the other party may actually be contributes to peace. The pursuit of accommodation or the acknowledgement of the best possible accommodation are expressed and to the best of ability achieved. (Bush and Folger, 1994)

Establishing a balance of our identity (Bush and Folger, 1994) is the key to where we embrace and adapt to the needs of others and ourselves. Sometimes not reacting can be a powerful response allowing another force to have the room to seek balance. Compassion can even lead to a positive resolution. Resolutions will not always be reached, but the process can be beneficial with understanding being achieved. The new sensibility of conflict is reflected by many factors leading to the same principal where moving forward with the ability to better handle conflicts and reach a personal growth are achieved.


Bush, A. & Folger, J. (1994). Changing people not just situations. In The promise of mediation: Responding to conflict through empowerment and recognition (pp. 81 –112). San Francisco: Josey-Bass

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (n.d.). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. Retrieved May 13, 2004 from A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry.

Crum, T. (1987). The magic of conflict. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Pearce, K. A. (2002). Making better social worlds: Engaging in and facilitating dialogic communication. Redwood City, CA: Pearce Associates

Pearce, W. and Littlejohn, S. (1997). Moral conflict: when social worlds collide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Putnam, L. (2001). The language of opposition: Challenge in organizational dispute
resolution. In W. F. Eadie & P.E. Nelson (Eds.), The language of conflict and
resolution (p 10-20). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Weisbord, M. and Janoff, S. (1995). Future search: an action guide to finding common ground in organizations and communities (pp. 15-39), San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.