The conflict has been part of human existence since time immemorial. It is a natural occurrence and there is no way conflict can be divorced from human existence so long as people live together. Interestingly, conflict occurs at all fronts of life; be it in relationships, families, and workplaces or between nations. The fact is, people are different, and therefore they will uphold different beliefs and ideas. Unfortunately, there is a great need for cohesiveness for any system to function properly.
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This cohesiveness cannot be achieved without compromising certain principles and this marks the genesis of the conflict. In principle, certain people will feel violated if they have to compromise on some of the dearly held beliefs and they will feel shortchanged in different settings. Interestingly, there is an ever-increasing conflict between males and females. This calls for a serious and urgent solution to settle differences between these important groups of society.
Why Study Conflict
Since conflict is inevitable amongst people living together, studying it also becomes inevitable and this is a necessity to foster understanding between individuals for a better living. It pays a lot to study conflict management because it helps someone to solve, face, avoid, or help others to overcome conflict. The conflict between males and females is a fact at both organizational and interpersonal levels. Therefore, because people cannot shy from reality or ignore the facts, it is important that people study conflict. It is important to note at this point that, ignoring the facts does not change them.
According to Wilmot and Hocker (2005), studying conflict helps individuals to reconcile their differences (p. 2). Studying conflict also helps individuals say, husband and wife, to start their relationships all over again with a fresh mindset to achieve certain goals. Studies carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health indicated that unresolved conflicts lead to depression and this extends to the workplace whereby, millions of dollars are lost through poor performance or missed days (Wilmot & Hocker, 2005, p. 2). Therefore, studying conflict and knowing how to resolve it, will save organizations these huge losses.
Knowing how to handle conflict saves so many marriages from going down the drain. Why is it that some couples will go through conflict successfully while others succumb to its pressures and break long-cherished relationships? The reason lies in how these couples handle conflict. Conflict is not the problem for it has to happen, the problem is how to handle it and this can only come through proper knowledge on how to manage conflict. Conflict management holds the key to successful relationships whether in organizations or in families. According to Volkema and Bergman (1989), conflicts in the workplace result to huge negative impacts if left unresolved for long (p. 759). Therefore, the importance of studying conflict cannot be overemphasized.
Existing Problems that needs to be Addressed
There are significant problems in form of differences between male and female in the society today. These problems call for urgent address to create that mutual understanding between male and female that has been missing for a long time. Due to diversity of people in society, differences hence conflict arise daily. People have different backgrounds, approaches to life and perspectives (Tannen, 1990, p. 15).
The existing problem here that needs urgent addressing is the fact that people have different opinions and perspectives concerning same thing. Another problem is that some people tend to think that their opinion is always right; therefore, they want everyone else to comply with their opinion. This problem leads to longstanding conflict because such people will not compromise their stand. Take for instance in marriage, the husband decides that he is the head of the family thus he has to make all the decisions. The wife will feel neglected and shortchanged because relationships are anchored on mutual understanding.
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Incompatibility of aims and goals generates conflicts in organizations and in families. Diversity is positive because it enhances survival; however, there are prices to pay to enjoy the richness of this diversity (Baxter, 1982, p. 25).
Men and women are very different in all manner of ways. While a man maybe trying to achieve financial gain and stability by propelling his career, a female companion may be trying to earn enough money to support her family as she enjoy the fun of the moment. Aims and goals come in both short term and long term packages. If one side is trying to achieve a long-term goal while the other is trying to achieve a short-term goal, then conflict will arise. Incompatible goals and aims call for great attention; unfortunately, this has taken a back seat in relationships or in organizations. People usually have a common yet misconstrued assumption that if people are working together then it follows that they have common interests and goals (Wilmot & Hocker, 2005, p. 16). Far from it, counterbalancing goals are a reality in work place. However, redefining and restructuring the goal, to achieve the same purpose can resolve conflicts.
According to Wilmot and Hocker (2005), expressed struggle in individuals is an existent problem that needs to be addressed (p. 9). This results from internal strain within a person leading to unresolved issues in one’s mind and this extends to his or her feelings. The underlying factor here is the failure to address interpersonal perceptions existent amongst individuals. Unfortunately, conflict is built on these perceptions and not unless they are resolved, conflict will persist. Communication barrier remains an all-time problem in conflict. Communication cannot be divorced from conflict because communication will either resolve or intensify conflict (Bodine & Crawford, 1998, p.69).
Regardless of whether conflict is interpersonal or organizational, communication will have the same effect. One well-timed word can change a conflict to communication. If male and female would master the power of communication properly, then instead of escalating conflict, they would resolve it. There is power in spoken word.
Interdependence takes a central role in the issue of conflict management. One may tend to think that instead of trying to solve conflict, it would be advisable to move away from it. However, this is not the case; individuals, especially men and women are interdependent; without interdependence, there is no conflict. Tannen (1990) notes that, “an individual who is not dependent on another, has no conflict with that other person” (p. 65).
This underlines the importance of interdependence in conflict. Regrettably, many individuals think that they can do everything on their own; however, this is not the case, no man is an island. In a relationship, neither the husband nor the wife can be independent. In organizations, individuals have to be dependent on each other because they work in concert to achieve a common goal. This has to be addressed in conflict management.
Perceived scarce resources also exist like conflict factor. People, men and women alike, need attention. Any perceived scenario that seems to threaten, diminish, or take away this attention creates conflict. Apart from attention, other resources like money, time; both tangible and intangible resources pose a great risk to escalating conflict. However, Wilmot and Hocker (2005) points out that, power and self-esteem are the crucial perceived scarce resources at interpersonal level (p. 14).
Finally, interference poses a great risk towards propagating conflict. This pertinent issue has to be addressed in effective conflict management. Interfering, disrupting, or preventing the other person from achieving his or her goal compounds conflict. Interference can occur deliberately or impulsively; nevertheless, its effect on conflict is the same (Bodine & Crawford, 1998, p. 98). The person causing the interference appears to be the problem; however, he or she may be the solution.
Think of a wife asking the husband for a date out of town at the middle of the month. The husband says no because he cannot support it, the wife sees the husband as an obstacle standing in her way to a date. This causes conflict. Incompatible goals, interference, perceived scarce resources interdependence and lack of communication are the core existent problems that need to be addressed in a conflict.
Little Attention Given To This Area
Despite the long spells that male and female experience under conflict, very little attention has been given to this area. People have a way of assuming things and hoping that these things will change with time. Surely, time is the master healer but when it comes to conflict wishing for the best does not materialize to any solution. Seemingly, individuals have resorted to this retrogressive behavior to solve conflicts. It is difficult to see people taking charge and responsibility to own up mistakes, compromise her and there in a bid to solve longstanding conflicts. One of the greatest reasons behind this behavior is ego (Deutsch, 1973, p. 27). People think that if they compromise their principles that translates to dented ego.
At times, people do not concentrate on the issue of conflict study because they hope that conflict will not come their way. The fact is; conflict is a reality and inevitable (Donohue & Kolt, 1992, p. 32). Dealing with conflict requires time, resources, and commitment. One or more of these critical components may be lacking leading to paying little attention on studying conflict. One may have the time but lack commitment or the resources. Deliberate disinterest in studying this crucial area is another explanation as to why little attention has been given to this area.
People have continually made the common mistake of concluding that conflict is a problem like any other. This assumption is too costly because the repercussions are far reaching. Conflict has to be avoided regardless of the expenses incurred because it is not healthy to live in conflict. Lack of knowledge also explains why there is very little attention given to this area. According to Donohue and Kolt (1992), people do not know precisely the cost of unresolved conflict because the repercussions may come under the guise of another cause while in the real sense they emanated from unresolved conflicts (p. 39). Moreover, misconstrued belief that the process of learning conflict management is too complex and requires professionals to handle it has led to many people shying away from learning conflict management.
These factors notwithstanding, many people think and feel that they are overly qualified to deal with any conflict arising. They will try to maneuver ways that will suit their needs and because they have done it in the past and succeeded, then they can do it in future. This notion eliminates the desire to engage in programs that teach how to handle conflict constructively (Bjorkqvist, 1997, p. 45).
As aforementioned, conflict is a reality in life and it happens all the time at different places. According to the way individuals respond to conflict, they either escalate it or solve it. This portion will analyze some practical considerations of conflict arising from the existing problems discussed above.
Take for instance, the issue of power and self-esteem in the problem of perceived scarce resources. A mother calls in her friend to take care of her sick children when she is away at work. The friend, who comes in expects to strengthen her relationship with the mother because at least she has helped her. She expects to spend more time with the mother thereafter. However, the mother of these children is so preoccupied with her job that she can only find little or no time to spend with her friend. The friend feels let down, her self-esteem is dented and she concludes that she will never sit in for this mother because she becomes important only when the kids are sick. The perceived scarce resource here is time and conflict results from it.
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On interference, Terry loves watching soccer and he would do anything to watch all the games over the weekend. However, his wife, Janice, does not understand this aspect of Terry. One weekend, Janice surprises Terry with suggestion to go skiing on that Saturday evening. Terry cannot understand the whole issue and declines the offer and he asks, “Will you ever respect and approve what I love doing? To Terry, Janice is interfering with his plans to spend the evening with his buds enjoying one of the top-flight soccer in the world. This conflict remains unresolved because no one really understands the other.
Incompatible goals have always emerged as a major problem escalating conflict between men and women. Janet, married to Joel wants to revamp their apartments. However, Joel is not up to it. He would rather get a new car now and revamp their apartments sometimes next year; therefore, he says a straight ‘no’ to Janet’s proposition. Janet is naturally hurt for she cannot understand why Joel will never understand her. This threatens the relationship and they seek counselor’s advice. After a scrutiny, this couple realizes that they have a common goal but in different faces. They all want the good for the family; however, they have different aims.
Their means to attaining their goal, that is, a better life, are incompatible. Joel wants what he can be seen with; a car, while Janet wants what she can be seen in, an apartment. After rigorous session in hands of the counselor, they realize that, they can agree to share a common goal at a time.
On interdependence, Allison has been waiting for her dream wedding. It has been two years after completing school, has a good job, and lives alone in another state. She calls her mother to involve her and the father in the plans of her wedding. However, the father would hear none of it. He insists that his child would never be married to Pyler, Allison’s fiancé. The mother becomes infuriated and she stops answering Allison’s calls. After a while, Allison comes home to know what is going on. She realizes that her father would not support her plans to marry her fiancé and that is why her mother would not answer her calls. This family depends on the father to make decisions. The father wants the best for his children and that is why he will not let his daughter get married to a man not worth it. He depends on his family to maintain the high esteem that has been around for long. All these parties are interdependent.
Psychologists have done numerous researches on the subject of male-female conflict and have availed a lot concerning this issue. Research has been done to determine causes and ways of dealing with conflict.
Conflict is not a bad thing; it only becomes bad depending on how the involved parties handle it. Actually, studies show that conflict is healthy especially when solved amicably. Conflict affects relationships and after it occurs, it can weaken or strengthen the relationship. In some cases it has led to termination of cherished relationships while in other cases it has helped to strengthen seemingly weak relationship that were perhaps weakened by misunderstanding. Relationships depend on mutual understanding and mutual understanding comes by way of deeper understanding of issues that affect individuals coupled with closeness that acts as glue binding the involved parties together.
According to Braiker and Kelly (1979), conflict between male and female escalate because of shying away from conflict itself (p. 35). People will do this for a number of reasons; however, ego and pride plays a major role in unresolved conflict. Many individuals are not willing to swallow their pride, own up their mistakes and shortcomings and resolve conflict between them and others. In other cases, individuals in a relationship may shy away from conflict because they feel that if they face it, they will run out of control and the underlying anger. In this case, confronting conflict will only intensify it. In such a situation, individuals look at conflict as all for nothing situation and ignore it or engage in it in full force directing their anger to the object of wrath.
Another reason why people will shy away from conflict is that they may feel inadequate in a given relationship (Fisher & Brown, 1988, p. 50). Instead of blowing things up, an individual may decide to overlook conflict because he or she knows that nothing good will come out of the conflict or in its resolution. They will simply not agree on anything and it is good to maintain status quo and enjoy life when one can. Research indicates that, people just do not know how to solve conflict and if they try to solve it, they do it in a destructive way (Fisher & Brown, 1988, p. 84). Instead of solving a conflict, they try to settle scores and this is a destructive way of solving conflict. Destructive conflict resolution serves to intensify the conflict and leaves individuals more hurt than they were in the initial conflict.
According to Hall (1993), male and female conflict is on the increase because when faced with conflict, these people deny or deliberately avoid admitting existence of conflict (p. 12). In such a case, conflict lingers in the background as the involved parties interact. However, as time goes by, this suppressed conflict wells up creating more tension between the involved individuals and within a given time, it erupts. This is the first step. The second step involves people becoming mad and pointing fingers to the other party. At this point, anger sets in and individuals do not realize that they are in a conflict; on the contrary, people think other parties are angry with them (Braiker & Kelly, 1979, p. 63). This serves to intensify the conflict and as the involved parties continue to differ, they become defensive. Each wants to justify his or her own actions and at this point, there is no chance of solving things out amicably, not until a third party comes in to settle the conflict.
Finally, individuals try to settle conflict through influence and power. However, this action is not in good faith because individuals use power to win at the expense of others and intimidate them. Couples may employ this strategy to intimidate their partners. In this case, conflict may seem to be over; however, the party that loses becomes resentful and may try to settle scores later. Moreover, as Hall (1993) points out, this is manipulation, not conflict management (p. 16).
In organizations, conflicts between male and female are becoming a common place. Administrations are always on the run to secure professional services in conflict management to solve conflict between individuals in work place. However, research indicates that, workplace conflicts are systematic in most cases (McDermott & Berkeley, 1996, p. 49).Lack of information has been quoted as the main source of conflict in workplace. Despite this age where technology has simplified communication, there is massive miscommunication or improper use of the same. It is common to hear individuals ask why they were not told of such a thing, when confronted on a certain issue.
Lack of skills also contributes largely to organizational conflict. The education system in place teaches us everything else apart from relationships. Individuals lack interpersonal communication skills coupled with little or no information on collaborative problem solving skills (Johnson, 1993, 49). Unfortunately, lack of these essential elements leads to escalated conflict resulting from a minor issue that would be solved before becoming destructive.
According to McDermott and Berkeley (1996), in organizations, there are ineffective organizational systems and in most cases, these system problems come out as organizational and interpersonal conflicts (p. 34). Tracing back the genesis of a conflict, mediators have established that the organization may be putting much pressure on an individual thus affecting the way he or she behaves and functions. After a change in attitude or performance, this individual comes under conflict with management or fellow workers.
Unfortunately, many organizations employ cultural ways of solving conflict and this does not help much. Informal ways of conflict resolution offers a short time solution and the conflict keeps on resurfacing. Generally, informal conflict solution suppresses the cause of conflict and it follows that every time the suppressed source is uncovered, then conflict arises ((McDermott & Berkeley, 1996, p. 57). This translates to poorly managed conflict resolution in a system and if unchecked, it can become a culture persisting for decades.
In many organizations, there is misuse of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Even though many organizations are increasingly using alternative ways to settle down disputes, they opt for them at advanced stage of conflict ((McDermott & Berkeley, 1996, p. 16). Unfortunately, instead of solving conflicts, the late use of ADR throws confusion to mediation process and may impose a complicated process to an employee, who is misinformed about the adopted processes. Mediation should come before grievances and solve conflicts as they arise.
Healthy Approaches to Conflict Resolution
Researchers indicate that, conflicts start from minor issues and then advance to serious issues under the watch of the involved parties. Conflict between loved ones is different from conflict with a stranger like a work mate. However, Borisdoff and Victor (1997) posit that, regardless of the type of conflict, the involved parties should view this as a problem to be solved mutually (p. 36). This principle underscores all successful conflict resolution. The involved parties should create a win-win situation where nobody feels shortchanged or undermined. Human beings crave appreciation, and creating a situation where everyone feels appreciated has proved effective in conflict resolution. Each person should get equal chance to air his or her opinions and get actively involved in reaching a resolution.
Borisoff and Victor (1997) indicate that, in most cases individuals are caught up with their immediate interests that they damage relationships (p. 65). Selfishness, disregarding other people’s opinions, use of fear, power, and intimidation to reach a resolution can never work out.
The following approaches should be used to reach an agreement regardless of whether the conflict is interpersonal or organizational. The first step is to admit that there is a problem and identify it. Then, identify several possible solutions, the brainstorming phase. This ensures that every one gets equal chance in solving the conflict. Next, evaluate the solutions identified in stage II to decide on the best option that puts into consideration all involved parties. After this, implement the identified solution and continue to evaluate the performance of the solution reached.
Insights from the Literature Review
From the available literature review, researchers have identified key points that are positive. First, it is common knowledge that people tend to shy away from conflict. Even though they know very well that they have a problem, people will tend to assume things will fall in place sometimes in future. Again, male and female have continually used power and manipulation to settle scores in relationships. A man may tend to punish a woman in a relationship to settle a score.
However, as researchers point out, this serves to escalate the differences. On the issue of resolving conflict, literature reveals that the first step is admitting that there is a problem. Admission shows willingness to find a solution. Involving every one in resolving the conflict is another point that the writer finds appropriate in resolving conflict. Researchers have it right in their work and the writer feels that the outlined issues in literature review concerning conflict and conflict resolution are positive.
Use of Literature Information to Help People
The average person has not been in a position to access information on conflict and conflict management. Many people are ill informed about conflict and are unaware of it. Even those who are aware of it are too proud and unwilling to confront the issue. The common person should be taught that conflict is a realistic part of life and the reason behind many broken families and relationships is unresolved conflict. People need to know that ignoring facts does not change them; likewise, ignoring the fact that there exists a conflict in their daily life does not change the existence of the same. Moreover, people need to know that resolved conflicts strengthen relationships and what seemed to work against them may actually work for them.
Learning relationship skills should be a desire of every one for it is important to resolve or better still, prevent conflict. Individuals need to learn to identify how to prevent conflict by identifying the source of disagreement because; elementary, conflict originates from unresolved differences.
Teaching this information requires systematic procedures for effective results. Given the fact that most people go through education system, the writer would propose integration of interpersonal communication and conflict management in education system. The writer would also urge the media to step in and educate the average person the importance of conflict and conflict management. The writer would approach one of the popular newspaper agencies and secure a column where he or she would be highlighting the importance of conflict management and how to go about it. The writer would also engage in forums and social clubs and pass on this information to the average person.
Suggestions for Future Research/Conclusion
Now that it is apparent that conflict is a reality and inevitable, there is a great need to come up with ways of preventing or minimizing conflict between male and female both at interpersonal level and organizational level. We already know that conflict can be resolved amicably; however, we need to know how we can do this effectively without necessarily consulting professionals in this area. We need to learn more on how to detect conflict at its formative stages and address it before it escalates to dangerous levels. There is a need to know how to deal with oneself because it appears that most conflicts result and persist due to personal selfish ambitions. The problem comes from within; it is intrinsic as opposed the notion that it is extrinsic.
At organizational level, we need to know how people can create an environment that is favorable to all people. The type of further studies needed in this area is interdisciplinary research whereby researchers will look into old problems in a new and highly interdisciplinary mode. This will involve application of dynamic scientific studies to study conflict and its resolution. The new methods need to address issues like conflict resolution facilitation. Further study is needed on education theories on how to come up with effective ways of disseminating information effectively to the right people. Apparently, there is more than enough information about conflict and conflict resolution but it has not reached the right people.
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